Thursday, June 21, 2018
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20180215 Bullfight 13Fred Renk belies his age. At 81, he is energetic and talkative as he reigns over his Plaza Santa Maria bullfight ring in tiny La Gloria, Texas. He prefers the honorific title of Don instead of Mister, a title he can claim because his mother was Basque. Standing in the bullring addressing a crowd of mostly Winter Texans, an ever present cigarette in his hand, the former matador sets the stage for the afternoon's fights.

20180215 Bullfight 1Minnesotans Dyothea Bright and Lloyd Gath have no idea what to expect. "We've heard about it for a long time, but we don't know anything about it." Renk goes on to explain that no bull's blood will be spilled - the fight will end when the torero snatches a flower affixed to the bull's shoulder. However, there is no guarantee human blood won't be spilt, as happened to Renk's own son David a few years back. "This is an art, not a sport," he continues. "Watch the moves the fighter makes - it's almost like ballet, but it's a dance in front of an angry bull that is faster than a quarter horse, and can turn on a dime."

20180215 Bullfight 17Five fighters, all from Mexico, proudly march into the ring, stunning in their spangled regalia. Murmuring his appreciation of the torero's pride is Paul Brooks, a Marine wounded by enemy sniper fire in Iraq. Referring to his Purple Heart as an "enemy marksmanship badge", he is joined by other members of the Combat Marine Outdoors group, an organization dedicated to helping veterans recover from their trauma. Brooks anticipates seeing something that matches the courage he once saw in war.

Don Fred's description of the speed of the bulls is verified as the first animal is released into the ring. With astonishing speed, the angry animal rushes at the men in the ring, only to be further enraged as they wave capes at him, but dodging out of harm's way by getting behind barriers. Once the bull is panting from the chase, one of the toreros approaches the bull, cape in hand. With a dazzling display of courage, grace and showmanship, the bullfighter slowly exhausts the bull.

20180215 Bullfight 20Then the unexpected happens as the bull's horns find the fighter's leg. More embarrassed than injured, the torero resumes the dance, knowing the judges will downgrade his score.

Tim and Annette Bice of Clinton, Iowa, are enjoying their third time at the bullfights. They watch expectantly as the torero takes the classic pose indicating he is about the end the fight. In Mexico, Spain or Portugal, the sword would be at the ready for the kill, the tip aimed at the shoulders. In America, the torero still must go over the top of the horns to take the flower. Throwing the cape over the animal's eyes, he darts forward, snatching the flower. As the other fighters move into the ring to distract the bull, the winner exultantly shows the rose to the crowd. He has dominated the bull and won.

20180215 Bullfight 79The outcome suits Annette Bice. "The bullfighter didn't get gored, it was exciting, and this is the only place in the United States where you can see something like this."

Don Fred Renk is most appreciative of his Winter Texan fans. He has regulars who come back year after year, often bringing new visitors. Tim Bice brought his sister Cindy Ottless along, and she too is now a fan. But Renk also acknowledges that Mexicans have been coming in recent years as the quality of the bulls matches the size and speed of Mexican bulls. "In Mexico or Spain, the bull is weakened a lot before the kill, but in the American fights, the bull is only tired, not weakened by the picador's lances. Our kind of fighting is actually more dangerous. But remember - it's an art form, not a sport."

20180215 Bullfight 82The afternoon shadows grow longer as the four fights take place. The crowd seems to enjoy each one a little more as Renk exhorts them to yell "Ole." Now in the 18th year of operating the ring, he loves the crowds, the bulls and the thrills. "Bullfighting will be here for a very long time. People love the art and the excitement," Renk declares.

The next weekend of bullfights will be held Feb. 24 and 25 at the Santa Maria Bull Ring. The event on Saturday the 24th will feature celebrity bullfighters. For reservations and ticket information, call Santa Maria Bull Ring at 956-481-3300.


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