By Con Marshall
Crawford’s Old West Trail Rodeo has survived fires and floods and other disturbances for nearly three quarters of a century, but the show always went on. That won’t be the case this year. Because of the Coronavirus Pandemic and the stringent restrictions that have been developed to protect people and with hopes of keeping it from spreading, the rodeo has been cancelled for 2020.
Brooke Bass, president of the rodeo board for most of the 21st Century, said over the weekend that the board reluctantly decided late last week there is no way the rodeo could take place July 3 and 4 this year.
“We hated to have to make the decision, but after our mayor, some councilmen, the city attorney and our rodeo board members got together and interpreted the new health measures that were sent out last week, we felt we had to cancel it,” Bass said. “It would have been impossible for us to follow all the guidelines.”
The regulations were issued by the Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services.
Bass said many of the problems would have involved the crowd, particularly for the July 4 performance when a capacity or near-capacity crowd usually shows up.
“The restrictions say only 25 percent of the average attendance can be allowed to attend this year,” Bass noted. “We didn’t know how we’d been able to make that limitation and there is no way we could have a rodeo with just 25 percent of the gate receipts. No event can make that work.”
He also said the individuals in the grandstand and bleachers would have to be spaced six feet apart, the restrooms would have to be cleaned often and there are other stringent restrictions that would have to be met. In addition, there’s a $1,000 fine for every violation.
“It’s not the county sheriff or anyone like that who is responsible for the crowd spacing, it’s the events coordinator,” Bass added. “We don’t know who’s in charge of enforcing all the regulations, but we envision that someone with a cell phone could take photos of something we’re not doing right and send them to whoever is in charge and make us pay.”
The Crawford rodeo isn’t the only one that’s been cancelled.
The world-famous Calgary Stampede was called off several weeks ago, citing Canada’s ban on public gatherings, and earlier last week Cheyenne Frontier Days, the week-long extravaganza that draws more than 100,000 spectators annually, was cancelled for the first time in its 124-year history.
Bass said two days after the Cheyenne announcement was made and the same day it was decided to cancel the Old West Trail Rodeo, a half dozen other rodeos in Wyoming made the same decision.
On the brighter side, Bass said when the decision pertaining to the Crawford rodeo was made, he immediately contacted the stock contractors and others involved in staging the event and told them to put the OWT on the books again for next year.
“We’re 100 percent determined to have the rodeo again once things get back to normal,” Bass noted.
The cancellations are not only hard on the host communities and their businesses, but also will take a heavy economic toll on the rodeo cowboys and cowgirls, stock contractors, announcers, bullfighters, concessionaires, program printers, etc.
This would have been the 74th annual rodeo that Crawford has hosted during the Fourth of July, dating back to soon after World War II ended. It’s the third oldest rodeo in Nebraska and the only Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo in the state over the Fourth of July.
It became known as the Old West Trail Rodeo in 1981.
The biggest threat previously occurred in 1991, when torrential rains in May west of Crawford caused major flooding of the White River that washed away the community pavilion, destroyed the state fish hatchery and heavily damaged the rodeo grounds, the Crawford Livestock Auction facilities and the city’s water system. That year the rodeo was moved to Fort Robinson and still took place.
This year, there is no alternate solution.
Much earlier, the popular Post Playhouse at Fort Robinson also canceled its 2020 season.
Cancellation of the rodeo means that the youth rodeo that would have taken place on July 2 also has been called off. Bass added that the rodeo board cannot permit the Crawford High School Rodeo that was scheduled for Sunday, June 7 to take place in the Old West Trails facilities, either.
All the previously scheduled Nebraska high school rodeos this spring have been cancelled, according to the state’s website. However, rodeos slated to take place in Harrison this Friday and Saturday were still on the schedule as of Monday morning.
When asked about the status of the parade that has long taken place in downtown Crawford the morning of July 4, Bass said it is not a function of the rodeo board and he could not answer that question.