Lenore Rutherford, The Union Democrat

It's time to kick off preparations for Tuolumne County's biggest annual event, the Mother Lode Roundup.

This will be the 56th event sponsored by the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Posse, culminating, as usual, in two full days of professional rodeo at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds, a Saturday morning parade in Sonora, a Saturday night dance and a Mother's Day breakfast.

The Roundup is held each year on Mother's Day weekend, which this year is May 11 and 12.

Queen hopefuls are required to throw their hats in the ring by Thursday. Call Steve or Janice Gray at 532-0365 or Mike Shaffer or Chris Walpole at 984-3518.

Contestants must be 17 to 24 and have never been married. They may be from anywhere in Central California, but potential contestants should remember this is not a beauty pageant. It requires horsemanship skills and people skills.

A new feature this year is a qualifying pre-ride. It requires following a simple pattern to demonstrate the skill necessary to compete in the contest. Janice Gray said it is a pass-fail test and is not open to the public.

She said she is sure everyone will pass, but anyone who doesn't will be welcome to practice and return the following year. "With riding, safety comes first," she said.

Sunday, Jan. 27, is the first time the public will get to meet the contestants and buy tickets from them.

Presale rodeo tickets are $15 each.

Another new feature this year: In addition to rodeo tickets, people have the choice of buying $15 tickets or a $1,000 cash prize donated by Shaffer Auctioneering. The winner's name will be drawn at the rodeo, and that person does not need to be present to win. All proceeds go toward putting on the rodeo.

Each contestant must sell 200 rodeo tickets, cash-prize tickets, or a combination of both,to qualify. Gray said that makes it easier for out-of-town contestants to sell the required 200 tickets.

The official kick-off of the queen competition will take place at 5 p.m. Sunday at the Tuolumne County Sheriff's Posse Grounds, 19130 Rawhide Road. It is open to the public at no charge.

The contestants will need to attend a 4 p.m. pre-meeting on Sunday, where they will sign their contracts and get their tickets.

Other events include several ticket turn-ins and riding in the Oakdale Rodeo Parade on April 13 with 2012 Mother Lode Roundup Queen Taylor Howell.

They will attend a potluck with the Sheriff's Posse at 6:30 p.m. March 4, a horseback meet-and-greet event at 10 a.m. March 9, and a tack night, where they will get tips on the proper tack and how to use it, at Butler's Saddle Shop on Twist Road at 6 p.m. on April 25.

The competition really heats up in May. There are personality interviews at 4 p.m. May 3 at the Posse Grounds, a horsemanship competition at 10 a.m. May 4 at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds, and the queen's coronation at 5 p.m. May 5 in the Sonora Opera Hall on South Washington Street.

The final ticket turn-in will be at 5 p.m. May 9 at the posse grounds, followed by a Calcutta. The Calcutta is an Old West auction where people bid on which teams they think will win a meant-to-be hilarious calf scramble held during the Mother Lode Roundup Rodeo. One member of each two-person team catches a calf and the other ties a ribbon on its tail. Admission to the Calcutta is free.

The Roundup parade on South Washington Street begins at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 11, followed by the 2 p.m. rodeo and 8 p.m. dance at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds.

On Sunday, May 12, a Mother's Day pancake breakfast is served from 8 to 11 a.m. at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds. Cowboy church is at 10 a.m., the Grand Entry is at 1 p.m., and the rodeo is at 2 p.m. The day and time of the annual kiddie rodeo is still to be set.