GRANGEVILLE — Even though scores of rodeos across the country are canceling or postponing this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers of the White Bird Rodeo and Grangeville’s Border Days Rodeo say the show must go on.
White Bird organizers are planning to adhere to their slogan — “Let ’er rip” — and stage their event June 19 and 20 at the rodeo grounds along the Salmon River. That will be followed by the three-day Border Days Rodeo and Celebration on July 2-4.
“The last few years, we’ve had around 100 (contestants),” said Monty Baker, one of the organizers of the White Bird Rodeo. “This year, I’m thinking we’re probably going to double that with the responses we’ve been hearing.”
Brad Arnzen, spokesman for the Border Days committee, agreed.
“There’s no way to really nail that down, but in my mind, I think it’s going to be huge,” Arnzen said of the expected cowboy turnout at the rodeo. “Oregon is completely shut down (as well as most of Washington) and (cowboys) don’t have anywhere to go. The (Idaho Cowboys Association) has had a large amount of people asking them what rodeos are on in Idaho so they could plan on where they could go.”
Matt Askew, president of the Idaho Cowboys Association, said this rodeo season is still far from settled, but it’s likely events will be few and far between.
“Nobody knows right now what rodeo’s going to look like,” he said. “The (National Pro-Rodeo Association) for Oregon canceled all their shows and Washington has lost a lot as well. The ICA is the only pro-rodeo sanctioning association holding rodeos (in this region). ... We had fielded more calls from contestants across the board and we definitely see Grangeville and White Bird having the biggest shows they’ve ever had.”
The ICA-sponsored rodeos expect to draw a lot of professional cowboys this summer who don’t have anyplace else to go, he said, even though the added purses in most of these rodeos are small compared to the bigger professional rodeos.
“Cowboys income — that’s a Catch-22,” Asker said. “I’ve fielded a lot of calls from some pro-rodeo guys and that’s how they make a living. So they’re looking at coming to the ICA and they’re just going to have to make up a lot of money working at ranches and other jobs to fill in.”
Pam Queen of the International Professional Rodeo Association said the loss of income to cowboys who depend on rodeoing during the summer “is going to be devastating, especially for someone that’s a full time rodeo cowboy. It’s just going to be devastating.”
Askew said he has made recommendations about how rodeo committees prepare for sanitization and social distancing protocols but because most of the rodeo grounds in the ICA are county- or city-owned, the government authorities are the main ones to set the standards.
“Our recommendation falls into line with Gov. (Brad) Little’s stages, as far as social distancing,” Askew said. “I am telling committees I would like to see money handlers and secretaries in the offices wearing latex gloves and masks and providing more hand sanitizing stations than they’re used to. Everybody calls it the new normal — I hate that term, but that’s the way it is. We’re putting out our recommendations, but also if you’re a city or county facility, you’re going to have to follow their recommendations.”
Baker at White Bird said he does not believe social distancing will be a problem at the rodeo grounds. The rodeo is the only event that will be held there this year after the White Bird City Council voted earlier this month to cancel the adjoining White Bird Days celebration. There also won’t be a parade to go along with the rodeo.
“There’s plenty of room to move around out there,” Baker said of the rodeo grounds. “We’ll have sanitizers around the office, but the food booths — I don’t know.”
Arnzen also said the rodeo organizers will take what precautions they can, but in reality there’s not much they can do. Besides the rodeo arena that seats about 3,000 people, there will also be the much-anticipated street sports and Super Egg Toss, which traditionally draws more than a thousand people each of the three days along Grangeville’s Main Street.
“There might be a possibility we only have one parade instead of three, and for the street sports, that’s mainly kids,” Arnzen said. “We’re working on that now but it’s easy to stay far apart. There’s a lot of room down there. We hate to not have that because it’s a big deal for people.”
At the arena, he said, “it’s pretty hard to stay 6 feet apart and people aren’t going to do it, no matter what you do. They’re going to sit on top of each other, and to me that’s a personal choice That’s why we live in America. If that makes you nervous, don’t go. It’s as simple as that. But I think it’s going to be a big deal. A large number of people will go. They’re tired of this thing and it’s a personal choice.”
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