The show must go on

The pandemic shut down many rodeos coast to coast in 2020. For some the show went on at a later date, while others shifted their focus to 2021. Economic conditions forced some rodeo sponsors to pull back their dollars and committees to limit their added money purses.

Rodeo contestants who make their living by competing at professional rodeo events suffered the most when their source of income was limited or even lost. And those rodeos that managed to have an event saw record numbers of entries. Those committees planning for 2021 events are even more hopeful.

Woodward Elks Rodeo

The 91st Annual Woodward Elks Rodeo was set for June 9 to 12 in Woodward, Oklahoma. The 2021 rodeo has actually been easier to plan, Chris Charmasson, committee treasurer, said.

“We’re 99% sure we are going to happen this year,” he said. “Last year was a total different story. We were holding our breath the whole time that we could get shut down.”

All it would have taken was a phone call from the Oklahoma governor or the Woodward city manager to shut the rodeo down in 2020. But the call never came, and the show was able to go on with what Charmasson called “a lot of extra precautions.”

“We had signs all over everywhere, telling people to social distance,” he said. “We had hand sanitizer all over the place and had masks available to anybody that wanted them—had them at all the gates.”

One challenge organizers had to face was with the free meal they serve to spectators each night.

“We changed that up a little bit, where instead of going through a line—kind of like a buffet line—even though it’s served to them,” he said. “We had the meals pre prepared in boxes so they could just go through and get a box. There was less contact that way.”

The extra planning and extra expense paid off for them, as the spectators showed up. Charmasson was worried about being able to pay stock contractors and other personnel the previously agreed upon rates.

“We were really holding our breath, and had no idea what to expect,” he said. “Luckily, we were able to pay our contract personnel what their contracts were originally.”

Everything worked out for the Elks committee and for Charmasson, he was thankful.

“We were pretty worried about it,” he said. “We’re one of the first rodeos to actually go and a lot of rodeos, because we went, patterned off of us and took a chance as well.”

Dodge City Roundup Rodeo

Dr. RC Trotter called the 2020 Dodge City Roundup Rodeo one for the record books.

Not necessarily because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but because it was the best in the arena. The Sunday short-go performance featured 16 world champions. According to the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, the DCRR paid out an impressive $401,285.

As president of the DCRR, Trotter is also a health officer and physician in Dodge City. Prior to the 2020 rodeo, the committee had set a goal that once the COVID-19 cases reached single digits and death rates were low, they’d go ahead and have the rodeo.

“When we got down to that number we decided to go and run a rodeo,” he said.

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Nearly all their sponsors renewed except maybe one or two—because of economic challenges. But the committee was able to sell new sponsorships to fill the gaps. Ticket sales also were promising.

“All of our premium seating sold out immediately,” he said.

The PRCA was pushing Trotter and the committee to have the rodeo, calling him frequently to see if it was going to go. The committee found out they’d be receiving some additional sponsor money and the rodeo would be televised on the Cowboy Channel. The additional funds helped the budget Trotter said.

“That’s why we went ahead and just pretty much ran a rodeo as usual,” he said.

The committee put COVID-19 precautions in place, including sanitation stations and other things.

“Overall attendance was down about 30%. Most of that was on Wednesday and Thursday night and it picked up pretty good on Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Trotter said. “So from a spectator point we were down but we got through it okay.”

However on the contestant side, it will likely go down in history as “the absolute best rodeo ever in Dodge City.”

“Because we filled every event completely, where as in years past, we’ve been short of bareback riders and things like that,” he said. “And it’s because they hadn’t any place else to go, and not a big rodeo like this.”

The competition in the arena was outstanding, and for Trotter helped the committee get through the rough patch.

“So 2020 was a great year for us,” he said. “Financially we got through it. Rodeo-wise it was the best rodeo we ever had.”

Trotter expects the 2021 rodeo operations to be successful while addressing needs and challenges. The committee is working on the north grandstands as well as other areas of the arena that need attention. There could be some issues with the stock contractor getting enough timed event cattle.

“There’s not enough USDA inspectors on Mexican border to ship the cattle. That’s where some of the steer roping and steer wrestling cattle come from,” he said. “But I don’t think anybody will notice any difference.”

The stock contractors will get the issues worked out, and Trotter hopes 2021 will be another great year. With the country opening back up, he expects there to be a higher turnout for spectators.

“I greeted everybody that left last year with a handshake,” Trotter said. “The feeling among those who showed up was just overwhelmingly, thank you for doing this we needed this we needed some normalcy in our community.”

Dodge City Days is back on for 2021 and Trotter hopes with all the events going on in the community during that time, people will come out to the rodeo. It is set for Aug. 3 to 8 at the Roundup Arena in Dodge City, Kansas.

“We’re pleased they’re going to be able to go, because we’re a real partnership with them,” he said. “It works out well. Contestants love the rodeo.”

Kylene Scott can be reached at 620-227-1804 or [email protected].