Students, community members and rodeo athletes gathered last weekend to celebrate the first collegiate rodeo of the 2020-2021 season hosted at Cedar City’s Iron Rangers Arena.
Southern Utah University’s Rodeo team hopes to carry the momentum of a strong 2019-2020 season that boasted a second place Rocky Mountain region finish for the men’s team and a region champion breakaway roper on the women’s team.
These top regional finishes guaranteed the rodeo athletes a ticket to the College National Finals Rodeo held in Casper every June. However, the season was cut short when the CNFR committee announced the decision to cancel the event due to COVID-19 concerns.
Coach Shane Flanigan expressed sadness at missing the chance to attend the CNFR with his first men’s team to qualify for the event, but with a new season officially underway, he displayed optimism about what each of this year’s athletes has to offer.
With coronavirus still a major concern when holding sporting events, the season will likely hold a variety of challenges for Flanigan and his team.
Filling out a health report, taking temperatures and wearing a mask when not able to social distance are among several of the regulations the team will have to abide by in order to compete.
Despite the strains the COVID-19 pandemic is putting on the production of college rodeos, Flanigan is pleased with the standard the SUU hosted rodeo has set for those to follow.
“The National Commissioner called me and he was very complimentary of SUU’s Covid Response,” Flanigan said when asked about planning the rodeo this year. “Our rodeo got approved just like that. No problem at all. It flew through [State Risk Management] as well as it has ever done. I had to do more as far as being approved by the [National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association] than normal, but it was no big deal.”
This year multiple hand washing stations were placed around the venue and social distancing stickers were placed on the ground near food vendors. Those in attendance were also encouraged to wear masks–though many elected not to.
The SUU rodeo is held every year in partnership with the Cedar City Lions Club, a volunteer group dedicated to improving the community, who played a vital role implementing new safety regulations.
Lions volunteers oversaw the recording of contact information for every attendee in an effort to facilitate contact tracing as well as limited patron contact at the food vendors by hand bagging condiments.
Rodeo athletes competed in NIRA sanctioned events including saddle bronc riding, bareback riding, bull riding, tie down roping, steer wrestling, team roping, barrel racing, goat tying and breakaway roping.
SUU welcomed 110 contestants from seven of the 11 Rocky Mountain region schools.
The teams represented were College of Southern Idaho, Utah State University Eastern, Utah State University, Idaho State University, Snow College, Colorado Northwestern Com Coll, and Dixie State University.
The competition took place over the course of two days with an opening performance Friday night and a championship round Saturday evening.
To ensure each cowboy and cowgirl had a chance in the arena, time known as “slack” was allotted after Friday evening’s performance as well as Saturday morning for competitors not scheduled in the opening event to compete.
The highest scores and fastest times from both Friday’s performance and the slack events were invited to participate in Saturday night’s grand conclusion to the event.
SUU’s team of nine solidified three spots among those vying for the crown in their respective events. When the dust had settled, Kassidee Bates took home third place in the barrel racing, Ian Fillmore finished sixth in the tie down roping and Macy Anderson claimed eighth in the goat tying.
With the first rodeo of the season complete, it could serve as a template for future COVID-19 regulated rodeos to follow if there is no reported spike in new cases tied to the event. Conducting the rodeos safely may improve the outlook for the college season to take place.
SUU Rodeo plans to travel the Rocky Mountain region throughout the year with two more rodeos slated to take place in the fall. The next event for the athletes will be hosted by USU in Logan on Sept. 25-26 followed by USU Eastern in Price on Oct. 9-10.
Story by: Mikyla Bagley
Photos by: SUU Rodeo Facebook Page and Mikyla Bagley