CAVE CREEK, Ariz. – Though every face in and around the arena was covered with a mask, the smiles behind those masks were almost visible.
ProRodeo returned to the live sports scene with Cave Creek Rodeo Days, Friday night, bringing a feeling of joy that was tangible throughout the arena.
No, there were no fans in attendance, but the Cave Creek Rodeo committee was determined to work hand-in-hand with Arizona state officials and the PRCA to make sure it could pull off what hadn’t been done since mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic – host a ProRodeo.
While there were plenty of pleasantries behind the scenes before the rodeo, it wasn’t until the opening of the rodeo that it felt truly plausible that the COVID-19 pandemic had at least for one night been pushed aside.
Watch Cave Creek Rodeo Days live
Rodeo announcer Doug Mathis made it official when he proclaimed: “We’ve been waiting two-and-a-half months to say this, ‘Folks, it’s rodeo time!’”
Cowboys were sitting atop railings. Friends and family were cheering from the stands. Mathis and clown of the year Justin Rumford, working as an announcer, bantered back and forth.
And then there was the rodeo – bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding. (Actually a double dose of bull riding, which opened and closed the rodeo because there were so many bull riders itching to get entered and back at it.)
Bareback rider Richmond Champion was one of those cowboys who couldn’t wait to get back to rodeo. No matter where it was going to be.
“It’s awesome,” said Champion, a five-time qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. “I told some of the guys I’d wear a HAZMAT suit if that’s what we had to do to rodeo. It’s good to be back. I hope more places are willing to put something like this on.”
Cave Creek was determined to help ProRodeo get back to business.
“You can’t keep rodeo people down,” said former PRCA commissioner and current Cave Creek board member Karl Stressman. “You can’t keep our fans down, you can’t keep our sport down.”
The first night of the three-night rodeo went off well. Colt Gordon, who made his NFR debut in December, posted an 86-point ride in saddle bronc riding. Dalton Massey had a sub-six second run in steer wrestling. And Garrett Smith capped the evening with an 89-point ride on 4L & Diamond S Rodeo’s Rustler’s Roost.
The competitors were ready to perform, and it showed.
“I’ve been sitting at home long enough, it didn’t matter where they’d put it,” Champion said. “It’s cool that Cave Creek manned up and decided to go ahead with it anyway.”
Everyone made sure to don their masks, as required. Chutes were wiped down and sprayed after rides to help keep things clean.
“We were bound and determined to make sure we followed the rules specifically, that we followed Gov. (Doug) Ducey’s mandate as to what we could and couldn’t do, the CDC’s rules and regulations, and of course, the PRCA came with another set of rules that was even more stringent to the protection of the athletes, anyone who was around the production and guys like you and me that are here just doing a job,” Stressman said.
Being able to be the first rodeo back was a chance Cave Creek relished.
“We’re just really thrilled to have Cave Creek be the first one to kick open the chutes,” Stressman said. “We appreciate the PRCA and all they’ve done to help and The Cowboy Channel being able to televise it. I’m hoping it’s the beginning of a season.”
Unlike many other sports, rodeo isn’t just about the competition. It’s also about being around everyone in rodeo.
“It’s like a reunion really,” Champion said. “Except a reunion where you’re not sure if you should shake hands or hug or just nod at each other.
“It feels good to be home.”
Courtesy of PRCA