EDIT: DUE TO THE POTENTIAL OF A STORM IN THE GULF THIS WEEKEND, THE RODEO HAS BEEN POSTPONED TO AUG. 9-10.
Last July, the South Lafourche community was shaken by news of Riley Bourgeois’ drowning.
This July — just more than a year since the tragedy — little Riley’s family is working tirelessly to make sure that their precious little boy’s name and memory lives on forever.
The Blue Boot Rodeo will take place this weekend — an event in honor of Riley, who passed away on July 2, 2018 after slipping away from his parents’ watch and walking into the neighbor’s swimming pool.
The rodeo is geared towards driving awareness to childhood drowning, while also celebrating the life of the small, sweet child taken from us too soon.
The rodeo will have touches of Riley sprinkled all over it, even down to the title: Blue Boot. The little boy loved the outdoors and in family photos, he always had on his patented blue outdoor boots.
The rodeo runs July 12-13 at the Sand Dollar Marina on Grand Isle. Scales will be open on Friday from 3-6 p.m. and on Saturday from noon-3 p.m. On Saturday night, awards will be given and music will be played.
Proceeds will go toward scholarships and to local charities.
Corey Hebert is helping family organize the event. He’s also a lifelong friend of Riley’s father, Darby. He said he’s so proud of how Darby and Riley’s mother Nicole have worked to turn their tragedy into a chance to help save the lives of others.
“I am very proud of both Darby and Nicole,” Hebert said. “They could have taken this horrible loss in many different ways. Because of their strong faith in God, they decided it was best to help educate others about drowning. Darby always says, ‘If we can just save one life,’ and I know this cause has saved more than one already. We have an amazing community we live in and we don’t take it for granted.”
The idea for a rodeo started before Riley’s funeral last summer.
Immediately after Riley’s passing, the Bourgeois family decided that they wanted to do things to give back and educate others so that their loss could be as isolated an incident as possible.
“The day before Riley’s funeral in Darby’s kitchen, he and his wife Nicole, along with 2 other friends were talking,” Hebert remembered. “Darby said he wanted to make sure Riley’s name lived on and Nicole immediately wanted to help others. That is when the idea of the rodeo was created.”
Drowning is the No. 1 cause of death in children ages 1-4 and the Bourgeois family said they don’t want anyone to have to experience what they did last year.
In addition to scholarships and charity, event proceeds will also go toward educating elementary school students and parents on drowning prevention in an attempt to make the area more safe.
“As I watched my sweet little Riley lying there, lifeless, praying, praying, praying to God, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want another person to have to go through this agony,’” the Bourgeois family said in a statement on the rodeo’s website.
The event will be fun — a family-oriented event that will feature both inshore and offshore divisions, as well as family events over the length of the two days.
On Saturday, DJ Phrozen will play from noon - 4 p.m. At night, the Aaron Foret Band will take the stage from 6 p.m. - 10 p.m.
In the water, champions will be crowned in both adult and children’s divisions. There will also be categories for kayakers.
Tickets for the event cost $20.
Hebert said since going public about the event, community support has been key. The event has several sponsors and many others have lent their time and energy to help get the event off the ground — so many that the family now believes this will be an annual event.
“The response to this, our first rodeo, has been nothing short of amazing,” Hebert said.
A LITTLE ABOUT RILEY
Riley was born on July 8, 2016 — the second of his brothers. He was always small in stature, but a giant at heart — a fearless little boy who was always wanting to explore and climb/dig into everything he could get his hands onto.
“Even though his time here on earth was way too short for our wanting, it was plenty of time for him to leave a huge impact on everyone’s hearts … even to those he had never met,” the family said. “His infectious smile left an imprint to all.”
News of the small boy’s passing sparked a deep change in the Bourgeois family, but also in many in the Lafourche Parish community as a whole.
Riley’s passing was heard through social media by more than 36,000 people in 21 countries and in 49 states. His funeral was attended by more than 1,200 people — all who wanted to show love and support for the precious little boy who always had a smile on his face.
“Riley gave meaning to the word ‘Life’ here on earth,” the family said. “He lived it daily the way all of us wish we could. Now, he is celebrating his eternal life in heaven where we will meet again in God’s time. Forever in our hearts and always on our mind.” •