This week’s Gilbert Days Rodeo will be a potpourri of the old and new, much like the town it calls home. For the first time, the rodeo will serve as the finals for the Grand Canyon Pro Rodeo Association’s yearlong season, offering the promise of three days of heightened competition and ESPN coverage of nearly 200 semi-professional rodeo athletes.
This week’s Gilbert Days Rodeo will be a potpourri of the old and new, much like the town it calls home.
For the first time, the rodeo will serve as the finals for the Grand Canyon Pro Rodeo Association’s yearlong season, offering the promise of three days of heightened competition and ESPN coverage of nearly 200 semi-professional rodeo athletes.
But most of the rest of the weekend’s lineup will be more familiar to Gilbert rodeo veterans. Kicking off with Wednesday’s charity team roping event, the festivities will again include rodeo queens and princesses, a dance, a carnival and the Lil’ Dudes Rodeo. GCPRA president Arnold Burrel said contestants in the rodeo finals, which will be the weekend’s centerpiece, are “just a mixed bag of tricks.” Some rodeo pros will fit the event in between other circuits, he said. They will mix with young studs who have the benefits of today’s training advances and “weekend warriors” who took the sport up as middle age approached.
Burrel said having the finals in Gilbert means the rodeo will attract such GCPRA luminaries as Derek Begay, who made this year’s National Finals Rodeo. There will be 13 events this weekend with 15 competitors each, everyone vying for points to finish out their season and a chance at a $7,000 cash prize.
GCPRA members are mostly from the Southwest, and they made up the majority of contestants in previous Gilbert Days rodeos, even though they were officially sanctioned by the International Professional Rodeo Association, whose members come mostly from Texas, Oklahoma and states further east.
Letting the GCPRA take the reins in Gilbert makes sense for everyone, Burrel said, from the riders to those financing the event. “The people who sponsor the event would rather put their money with the people who walk through their doors everyday,” he said.
The rodeo’s viability was thrown into some doubt this spring after the Gilbert Promotional Corporation, which organizes the rodeo and parade, lost last year’s title sponsor, SanTan Ford. But other sponsorships and a $20,000 cash infusion from the town helped to save the day. This year’s major sponsors include SanTan Honda Superstore, Hyatt Place and BW Legacy Inn and Suites.
Still, there are some loose ends to tie up, with town and GPC officials still hammering out how much money Gilbert will offer in the way of services this year. The Town Council approved spending $20,000 on a sponsorship for the rodeo instead of paying for the Gilbert Days Parade, which went on last weekend after a grass-roots effort raised enough money to fund a shorter route.
GPC President Tim Neese said Monday he’d thought Gilbert would still be donating all the public safety, trash and other services it has traditionally donated until he was told the group would get an invoice for those services.
A discussion of the matter was pulled from the Tuesday council meeting earlier in the day, to Neese’s surprise.
“I don’t know if they all of a sudden got softhearted or they’re avoiding confrontation,” he said.
Gilbert Mayor John Lewis said the discussion was postponed because the council needed more information about the costs before it could make a decision.
Regardless of who pays the bills, those who’ve participated in the past can expect to see their favorite events.
One traditional crowd-pleaser is the Lil’ Dudes Rodeo, where children ages 4 to 7 get to learn the art of “mutton-busting,” or riding a sheep into the arena. The event has its own queen and rodeo clown, who are already both veterans of the circuit.
Cheyenne Murdock, 7, is Lil’ Dudes Rodeo queen this year. Clad in plaid shirt, jeans and tiny cowboy hat with a tiara on the crown, she looked like a pro.
“I did this last year in Camp Verde,” she said.
Ten-year-old Tatum Lance will be the clown for the first time, but he is familiar with Gilbert Days as the granddaughter of longtime GPC volunteer Patty Williams. It’ll be her job to keep an eye on the mutton busters, who are helmeted before they get on the sheep.
She’s never busted mutton herself, she said: “It doesn’t look that enjoyable.”
Mike Stratton of Continuum Wellness, an event sponsor that donates its time to care for injured rodeo performers, performs similar services at about a dozen other rodeos throughout the season. He said Lil’ Dudes and similar events help give rise to a new generation of cowboys and cowgirls.
“It builds them a memory that will last them a lifetime,” he said.