Since the coronavirus pandemic hit our country earlier this year, there have been milestone rodeos the cowboy community has held its hopeful, collective breath for. This spring, the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo in Kissimmee, Florida, was canceled. Everyone then hoped and prayed the Reno Rodeo in June would be a go. Nope. Now Cheyenne. And “The Daddy of ’em All” is far from alone in terms of Cowboy State rodeo cancellations, as Cody, Casper, Sheridan, Laramie and Thermopolis all announced May 27 at a governor’s press conference in Cheyenne that the show will not go on in the summer of 2020. The rodeo in Rock Springs, Wyoming, since followed suit and also is cancelled.
“I grew up around rodeo, and rodeoed myself,” said a choked-up Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon at the press conference podium. “But to proceed in these uncertain times would be touch and go at best.”
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Cheyenne was ranked sixth in terms of Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association payouts in 2019, with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo being first. San Antonio, Houston, Kissimmee and The American were second through fifth, respectively. Cody was 21st, and every rodeo on the newly cancelled list hurts if you’re on that committee or are an affected contestant, stock contractor, contract personnel person, sponsor or fan.
Official reasons for this group of rodeo cancellations included “economics, health concerns and logistics.” What so many casting stones at committees cancelling their 2020 events are not considering is the sad realities right now, which range from insurmountable legal and liability considerations to getting flat denied by insurance companies not willing to cover current liability with all that’s going on to the fact that so many sponsor companies are hurting and simply can’t afford to be as generous as usual.
It’s also worth noting that most rodeo committees are comprised largely, if not completely, by unpaid volunteers. Generation after generation, these people spend the annual vacations from their paying jobs volunteering to help make their rodeos happen. They do it because they love it, and these cancellations are killing them, too.
How are world-class team ropers taking this latest blow to their 2020 rodeo season?
“We were hopeful, so this is pretty heartbreaking,” said current world heading standings leader Luke Brown. “The announcement of so many cancelled rodeos made it a devastating day. Our whole summer is in question now. It’s frustrating and aggravating for us, but I guess they know more than we do. We just don’t know what’s going to happen now. We thought for sure it’d blow over by July and they’d have it figured out. It’s pretty scary now as far as how the rest of the year’s going to go.”
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Reigning World Champion Heeler Wesley Thorp is currently ranked 11th in the world.
“This is a strange time for all of us,” Thorp said. “I’m going to keep riding horses and hanging out with my family, and will go to all the rodeos they let us go to. I’ll stay all-in, but none of us is sure what that means this year. I’m staying optimistic, but it’s definitely already been an odd year. We’re grateful for the jackpots we get to go to, and will just make the most of whatever we can do. I’ve been doing a lot of lessons lately at the house, too.”
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Seven-time World Champion Team Roper Clay Cooper has been busy teaching roping schools around the country with fellow ProRodeo Hall of Famer Jake Barnes. A lot of the younger ropers have always asked Cooper for advice. What would Champ do if a pandemic had hit during the peak of his prime?
“Overnight our world has totally changed, and there are a lot of things happening right now that are out of our control,” Cooper said. “Sporting events and businesses across our nation have been totally shut down. What’s going on in rodeo right now is rough, but the effects of what’s going on in the world are hurting all sports.
“I tell the young guys with families to feed that if I were in their shoes right now, I’d consider getting a job that pays money and is a guaranteed paycheck. For now, we all just have to do whatever it takes to make it. I just happened to step away from rodeoing for a living a year before this all hit. I’m grateful that I did, and sure feel for the guys trying to make a living out there right now. No one could have seen this coming. Now all we can do is make the best of the way things are. That’s not going to be the same thing for every person, but making the best of bad situations is just part of life.”
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The cancellation of The Daddy alone will cost the Cheyenne community millions. In 2019, the rodeo brought in over $28 million during its 10-day run. No government official or committeeman wants to forego that sort of windfall revenue stream.
“I know what this means for rodeo in Cheyenne,” Governor Gordon said. “The financial and emotional impact this announcement has on our community, rodeo fans and especially the contestants is immense. But it is the right thing to do, and together we are committed to making 2021 the best Daddy of ’em All ever.”