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WRCA World Championship Ranch Rodeo will go ahead despite COVID

Amy Hadachek
for The Fence Post
Jesse Jolly of Jolly Ranch/S&L Cattle Co., pictured during the 2019 WRCA. The Jolly Ranch is based in Agate, Colo., and is a cow-calf operation first purchased by the family in 1932 and S&L Cattle is a yearling and feedlot operation in Lamar, Colo.
Photo by Dan Hubbell

Deep in the picturesque Grand Canyon area near Flagstaff, Ariz., amidst their 700,000 acre Hereford cattle ranch, Clay Rodgers and his son Thomas of Babbitt Ranches are elated that their team just qualified for the November 2020 Working Ranch Cowboys Association World Championship Ranch Rodeo in Texas.

The father/son duo joined up with four other working ranchers and were thrilled that their six-member team is going to the world championship in November. The team is comprised of Clay and Thomas along with Vic Howell, Everett Ashurst, Wade Printz and Will Vest.

“This is my first year and my son’s, and Vic’s — going to it. The others on our team have qualified before. I was pretty excited, but then I was bummed because I didn’t know if the WRCA was going to have it (because of COVID),” Clay said. “My son is 13 and he’s thrilled, since it’s his first time going too.” Earning a qualifying time in every event, their six-member team qualified in mid-August for the WRCA’s World Championship Ranch Rodeo which will be held Nov. 12-15 in Amarillo, Texas. Babbitt Ranches is comprised of 4,500 animals including Hereford cows, bulls, yearlings and a mare program, 30 miles north of Flagstaff, with another part of the ranch closer to the Grand Canyon.

Texas is indeed kicking off big plans to hold its WRCA World Championship Ranch Rodeo, especially since this year marks the organization’s 25th anniversary. The 25th anniversary will be regaled with the highly anticipated working ranch competitions, cowboy musicians performing, a historic cowboy documentary of the WRCA, and the popular Trade Show featuring handmade cowboy gear, tack, furniture and art.

“2020 has been a challenging year to say the least, and with all sorts of events having to cancel or postpone, we stayed positive throughout the summer that while we were planning for the event, there was always a chance that it might not happen,” said Leman Wall, WRCA manager. “We worked closely with the city of Amarillo. Everybody’s trying to make sure people are safe and it’s the right environment. This virus thing was kind of new and spiking at a higher level, but we’re into a time of year now that people got a handle on it, and we were able to move forward.”

COVID IMPACTS

Because of COVID seating capacity restrictions, the WRCA board of directors approved a new event schedule for 2020 with two additional rodeo performances.

“In this COVID year, it will still be a four-day event but there will be six performances making it a three go round rodeo. So, each ranch team competes three times in each event, where teams used to compete two times,” Wall said.

In addition to Babbitt Ranches, so far other ranches that have qualified are from Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas and Texas. Ranches will compete in five events including: ranch bronc riding, stray gathering, team penning, branding and wild cow milking. “We try to mirror events that cowboys do on a daily basis,” Wall said. “The guys like to have a little fun but they don’t normally milk a wild cow. It’s very high energy, the guys get bounced around a bit, it makes for good viewing, but I don’t think the guys want to do it on a daily basis.”

Making this 25th anniversary year special, WRCA is excited about debuting a historical video by producer Bud Force that showcases 25 years of the World Championship Ranch Rodeo with interviews from cowboys and the people involved in establishing WRCA 25 years ago.

“We also have cowboy and cowgirl entertainers who will sing and perform at the rodeo and all throughout the venue. We’re honored to bring our cowboy entertainers back, to add special memories from years past,” Wall said.

Regarding stadium seating plans, Wall said since state health protocols initiated by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have current seating capacity for indoor events limited to up to 50 percent, the venue will stagger visitors throughout the different rows and sections at the Amarillo Civic Center complex. Masks are encouraged. All local and state recommended guidelines will be followed.

GETTING TICKETS

Panhandle Tickets will be in touch with current ticket buyers to work the process of re-ticketing them into 50 percent capacity, which will include the new performances, and they will be provided first priority for seating in the new performances. Once that process is completed, remaining seats for any performances will be opened back up for purchase. Tickets are expected to be back on sale by Oct. 15.

If there are any changes regarding the pandemic between now and November, ticket buyers have the option of a refund. Wall suggests that event goers check the website http://www.wrca.org and social media channels or their mobile phone app.

The event was created as a fundraising tool for the WRCA Foundation. Founders had an idea to provide financial support to working ranch cowboys and their families through scholarships and also a crisis fund if life takes an unfortunate turn, whether somebody gets hurt and can’t work for awhile (considered a hand up not a hand out) or due to a fire or flood.

“The whole process of this rodeo is about raising money to support the foundation,” Wall said.

Wall is also pumped up about the Youth Cow/Horse Championship with two divisions. The youth participate in a dry work reining pattern, then they work and rope a cow.

Another popular part of the World Championship Ranch Rodeo is the trade show spread out over 90,000 square feet throughout the building. The Trade and Trappings Show features handmade cowboy gear showcasing quality crafts from bootmakers, hatmakers, silversmiths, saddle makers, and furniture — all things very special to the cowboy culture, he said.

Another room features ranch equipment, such as working chutes, trailers, trucks, panels and water tanks. After the rodeo starts, there’s a 30-minute window of time before vendors close down to watch the rodeo.

“The cool thing is it’s all under one roof, with activities underway throughout the day,” Wall said.

Clay Rodgers’ wife Danielle is excited about an opportunity to sell artwork at the trade show through a company she formed with three other friends called Cow Horse Gallery. Their booth will feature art from Michael Donahue and the late painter Bill Owens.

As the Rodgers prepare for the championships in Amarillo, it’s a busy time on the massive Arizona ranch.

“The ranch is full-time. We’re going through fall works where we gather the cows and wean the calves, and get the cows settled into winter country,” Clay said.

After a challenging year across all of America and worldwide, there’s great anticipation for the World Championship Ranch Rodeo.

“It’s a great gathering of folks who love the cowboy culture,” Wall said. “We look forward to having everyone join us Nov. 12-15 as we celebrate 25 years of memories.”

The revised event schedule can be found at wrca.org.

Any changes in health protocols can be found at panhandletickets.com, amarillociviccenter.com, wrca.org and WRCA social media channels.

To read more about Babbitt Ranches, go to http://www.babbittranches.com. ❖

— Hadachek is a freelance writer who lives on a farm with her husband in north central Kansas and is also a meteorologist and storm chaser. She can be reached at rotatingstorm2004@yahoo.com.


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