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"We Couldn't Have Half A Rodeo:" The Sheridan WYO's 90th Birthday Put On Hold

Catherine Wheeler

Gov. Mark Gordon and leaders from some of the top rodeos in the state this month announced the major events would be canceled this year. That's due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the health safety measures that would have to be put in place for those events. Wyoming Public Radio's Catherine Wheeler spoke with Billy Craft and Zane Garstad, the president and vice president of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo. First, Craft explained how they came to the decision to put the 90th anniversary celebration on hold this year.

Billy Craft: This decision was arrived at very painfully, and after a tremendous amount of discussion, and looking at options and alternatives, [not] just with ourselves, but with a statewide group, with our county and state health officials, the governor's office and the six rodeos that work together to make this decision. And we tried every way we could think of to try to make something work and there's just not a box or a bottle that you can put this situation in that will float. It just won't work. And we want to make sure that people understand that nobody made us do this.

Catherine Wheeler: This is obviously a really important weekend to the community economically. How are you feeling about the effects it will have down the line for local businesses in the summer?

BC: It's really tough to make a call like this when this is without a doubt the single biggest week in the Sheridan economy. It's a big deal and we don't know exactly what it is, but we know it's somewhere north of $6 million for the community. We felt the potential risk, the long term risk, to the economy by going forward with the event and then risking a spike in the disease, which then shut everything down for an undetermined period of time, be it another two months, six months, another 10 or 12, it would bankrupt Main Street. So we think in the long term, we're better off to take this short term hit and continue our reopening process than we were to try to move forward and risk shutting the whole thing.

CW: Because the spirit of the event would have been impacted by restrictions you would have had to put in place, like masks and social distancing. It just changes the nature of it. And so did that also factor into your group decision on that?

BC: You don't go to something like this by yourself, a few people may, but a very few, you go with family, you go with friends, you go with loved ones, whatever. And to go experience that when you have to be separated from them. And even if you could seat six or seven together, it's still not the same because it's the social event for the community, whether it's Cheyenne, Sheridan, and Cody, it doesn't make any difference. People get together. And a lot of that's the only time they'll see each other all summer. And to think that we could produce an event and implement the social distancing directives and requirements that were handed down, and still have people experience a positive week. or an hour, whatever it was they took part in, it couldn't happen. It was not going to be the same.

CW: And Zane, also did that play into thinking about vendors or people who work or volunteer for the rodeo?

Zane Garstad: We couldn't have half a rodeo, half an event. You can't have an event. We have the parade, we have the carnival, we have street dances, the powwow we have, you know, our gold buckle Booster Club thing, there's 750 people in one area and you start taking those things away and then you say, who has to stay away? We have to have half the vendors that we usually do? So we were in a no win situation. It was better that we probably said no rodeo at all and to jeopardize our relationships with the people that we work with year in and year out. So again, difficult but something that had to be had to be made.

CW: So obviously there are still limits on what we can all do in public, what's open, all that. Are you planning on doing anything in lieu of rodeo like having some sort of event, something to fill that week or a day?

ZG: I think there's a lot of potential for that. And I think as we've come to understand that we all need each other, that we even get together with city and county officials and travel and tourism, and we have a meeting and just say, what can we do? What can we do with the, you know, the restrictions that we have on group sizes? But there's things out there and, people are entrepreneurs, and you know, that people are going to figure out something to do. And thank goodness for that.

BC: If there's a silver lining in this thing, and it's really hard to call it a silver lining, but if there's a positive note to this, it's the relationships that have been built through this process of trying to figure out how to deal with it. We've never had a Wyoming pro rodeo coalition before. I mean, There's some good things that will come in the future because of what started here.

Since the governor's initial announcement on major rodeos in the state canceling their events, the Cody Stampede has decided to still hold their rodeo with restrictions from the state health officer.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Catherine Wheeler, at cwheel11@uwyo.edu.

Catherine Wheeler comes to Wyoming from Kansas City, Missouri. She has worked at public media stations in Missouri and on the Vox podcast "Today, Explained." Catherine graduated from Fort Lewis College with a BA in English. She recently received her master in journalism from the University of Missouri. Catherine enjoys cooking, looming, reading and the outdoors.
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