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The National High School Rodeo Association has put the Cam-Plex on notice for future finals rodeos

A rodeo contestant participates in bull riding at the National High School Finals Rodeo at the Cam-Plex in Gillette.

Officials with the National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) have requested upgraded facilities for the National High School Finals Rodeo beginning in 2030. One of the rodeo’s major sites over the past three decades has been the Cam-Plex multi-event facilities in Gillette. The facilities have hosted multiple finals rodeos since they first began holding finals events there in 1993.

The NHSRA is requesting facilities that they claim will help create a level playing field for rodeo participants.

“You go to an outdoor arena, you have kids that perform say Wednesday night and during the night there comes a really big rainstorm, and [there are] other kids that’s got to get up Thursday morning, and they just don’t have the same footing, the same ground as the kids before it rained,” said James Higginbotham, Executive Director of the NHSRA. “We are looking for a timed event and rough stock and cutting and reined cow horse. We’re looking for a totally enclosed, climate-controlled facility.”

The Cam-Plex is one of several locations nationwide that hosts the National High School Finals Rodeo. The only other place in Wyoming that has hosted it is Rock Springs.

“They flew to all of the sites that they use and ones that would be of interest and said, ‘Hey, we are going to move to all covered and closed climate-controlled competition,’” said Darin Edmonds, Chairman of the Campbell County Land Board, which oversees the Cam-Plex. “Currently, Gillette and the Cam-Plex would not meet that requirement, so they were kind of putting us on notice.”

The NHSRA has expressed interest in several facilities throughout the country, though they’re keeping tight-lipped about which ones they’re considering. Edmonds said the NHSRA understands that it will likely be a significant financial undertaking for a host community to meet the requirements that it requests.

Edmonds stated that they’re getting ready to conduct a facilities and land use master plan that is set to look at some expansion plans in addition to whether new facilities would have to be constructed to meet the NHSRA’s requirements or if existing facilities could be modified to meet their needs. Due to current external circumstances, the cost of new or modified facilities is difficult to estimate.

“With all the supply shortages and inflation that’s going on right now, steel, copper, PVC, labor—you could ask any building facilities or engineer or construction manager two years ago [and] they could have given you a ballpark number that was probably pretty reliable [but] I don’t know if anybody can do that today,” Edmonds said. “Because Cam-Plex is a multi-use facility, we would use it for things other than covered indoor rodeo, so that would probably affect the price, it might affect the size, so it’s really hard to give an estimate on what that would cost.”

The Cam-Plex currently includes, but isn’t limited to, several enclosed pavilions, an outdoor rodeo grounds, a performing arts theater, and the Wyoming Center, an enclosed arena that functions as a multi-use facility and hosts the Gillette Wild hockey team.

The rodeo brings many economic benefits to Gillette, Campbell County, and Wyoming in general.

“The high school finals rodeo is here for seven days. The visitors, which would include the contestants, their families, grandmas and grandpas, was 11,933 [in 2016 during a previous finals rodeo], Edmonds said. “In that seven days, there was $8.7 million in direct expenditures in Campbell County, $369,000 was generated in Wyoming sales tax, $108,000 was returned to the City of Gillette. There was $10.1 million in total expenditures; $2.6 million was food and dining and $1.6 million [was] in hotel rooms, so that’s a lot for seven days.”

Despite the requirements that the NHSRA has laid out, an existing contract will continue to have Gillette host more future finals rodeos through 2029. However, Edmonds said that the rodeo prefers to book contracts four to five years in advance. This means that Cam-Plex officials would most likely have to provide a decision as to whether they will be able to meet the NHSRA’s requirements or not by 2024-25.

“We feel like it’s just coming home,” Higginbotham said. “Gillette has kind of become a fixture for us in that we rotate rodeos at the present time, but it’s always good to come back to Gillette because of the family and the facility that they have here.”

Gillette will host the next National High School Finals Rodeo again in July.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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