Bull riding event memorializes South Dakota teen Dallas Heninger, donates money to families of cancer patients
June 7, 2017
Dallas Heninger was 17 years old when he passed away after a 10-month battle with Ewing's Sarcoma five years ago, leaving behind two legacies: a young son named Ryatt and the Dallas Heninger Memorial Bull Riding.
Dallas' family has hosted the event at the Blunt Rodeo Grounds in Blunt, S.D., since his passing and this year is no exception. The non-profit bull riding will be July 21 in Blunt and any proceeds will benefit cancer patients.
"The event is an open bull riding, so anyone can enter. There are two categories, senior and junior, and all donations go to help local cancer patients around the area with medical and travel expenses," said Dallas' brother, Derrick, who helps coordinate the event each year. "The reason we came up with this is, first, to keep Dallas' tradition and love of the sport going in memory of him, and we also want to give back to the community that helped us so much through the 10 months Dallas had cancer. What better way than to have a bull riding in memory of Dallas?"
Five years have passed since Dallas lost his fight with cancer, but he is still talked about, thought of, and missed daily by those who knew him best and loved him most.
“It’s what Dallas would have wanted us to do if he was here. He’d still be wanting to ride bulls.” Derrick Heninger, Dallas’s brother
Ewing's Sarcoma is a very rare type of cancerous tumor that grows in bones or the soft tissue around bones, such as cartilage or the nerves. Dallas was diagnosed with the cancer in April 2012, Derrick said.
"He battled it for only 10 months before losing the battle Feb. 23, 2013," he said. "It was very aggressive cancer. Before that he was your normal kid going to school and riding bulls through high school and 4-H."
"The things he liked the most were bull riding and hanging out with friends," Dallas' mom, Vickie, said. "He was gifted with a son at an early age he took great pride in. His name is Ryatt Knippling, and he's 6. During the junior bull riding, we hold Ryatt to the last bull and let Ryatt have the spotlight. He's the spitting image of his dad. They were young when they had him, now I say I think there was a reason. Ryatt is going to be one of those who does everything in rodeo. He's been on a horse since day one, and been with it every since he's been born."
The event is operated on donations from the community in order to have prize money and awards for contestants, as well as other expenses needed to host a bull riding event.
"We average about 30 big guys, and we try to keep juniors at a minimum of six to eight," Derrick said. "The bulls are brought in by Korkow Rodeo, Randy Warne and Kevin Kosel of Smokin' Guns Rodeo Production. Kevin donates the use of his bulls."
The Fort Pierre and Pierre areas of South Dakota are host to many rodeos, Derrick said, and they're having a hard time getting sponsors for their non-profit.
"We don't make a penny off of this," he said. "It all goes back to local cancer patients through the Dallas Heninger Memorial Bullriding Foundation."
"We would like to keep this event going, but it's expensive. We don't keep anything; we donate it back to families of local cancer patients. We know what that's like," Vickie said. "Anything that gets donated goes to buckles and prizes, paying the stock contractors, ambulance cost."
During the event the first year, the contestant who won the bull riding donated $1,000 back in Ryatt's name for scholarship, Vickie said. It's an expensive venture but worth it for Ryatt and hosted in a great small community.
Dallas' family received financial support from that same community during his short battle with cancer, something Vickie said was sometimes difficult to accept.
"For 10-and-a-half months, I remembered that very first person who donated money to me. I felt so ashamed, but I really did need it. I couldn't leave my 17-year-old by himself in the hospital," she said. "We always, unless I know the people, donate anonymously. I know how I was, when people donated to us; I was very grateful, but it's hard to take that from someone else. It's needed just for the travel expenses. I was three hours from Sioux Falls, but I know of some people traveling from out past Newell, [South Dakota.] We don't just donate a great big lump sum to one person; we try to spread it out."
The Heninger family makes it a priority to return to Sanfords Children's Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, at least once a year to be a source of light for those who are now where Dallas once was.
"The first year he passed away, we took Christmas gifts back to the hospital," Vickie said. "Dallas was one of the older kids at the hospital in Sioux Falls, so we like to do this for the younger kids."
Derrick, his cousin Casey Heninger, and Donnie Bergeson can be contacted about competing in the bull riding July 21. Derrick's number is (701) 934-2938, Casey's is (605) 280-6874, and Bergeson's is (605) 222-3291.
"Dallas was a fun-loving and good spirited kid. He was always active in some sport or activity, and had a passion for rodeo, especially bull riding," said Bailey Heninger, Dallas' cousin. "There was never a dull moment with him; he was always up to something. He had a smile and laugh that was contagious. Dallas loved his family, friends and son, and you are lucky if you were one of them. He packed more life into 17 years than some do in 80."
"It's what Dallas would have wanted us to do if he was here. He'd still be wanting to ride bulls," Derrick said. "We thought it was a great idea to keep doing and get his riding buddies back together to share memories. It's a great event to be a part of; we're having fun for a good.
Contact Derrick, Casey or Bergeson at the numbers above to donate to the event. F