HURON – From barrel racing to breakaway roping, from chute dogging to bull riding, the excitement of rodeo is coming to Huron the next two summers as the community hosts the National Junior High School Finals Rodeo.
Young cowboys and cowgirls from all 50 states, three Canadian provinces and Australia – after advancing from regional and state competitions – will vie for scholarships and prizes during seven days in late June.
Planning committee members, many quite familiar with the ins and outs of rodeo, have been getting ready for the finals since Huron was awarded the bid in 2015.
Huron will play host to 1,200 contestants in sixth through eighth grade and their families. Some 4,200 people are expected, not including vendors and sponsors.
It was just a few years ago that the city welcomed the National Red Power Round Up to the state fairgrounds. Businesses and homeowners in Huron and surrounding towns greeted the visitors with all manner of displays and signs.
“We’re definitely confident that we can do it,” State Fair Manager Peggy Besch said about hosting the finals rodeo in a few months.
“This is just a little different animal, and because of the manpower that’s needed that’s a little scary,” she said.
Contestants will begin checking in at noon on Thursday, June 21. All must be registered no later than 7 a.m. on Sunday, June 24.
The first performance is at 7 p.m. that evening. For the next six days, performances will begin at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m.
A large trade show will be set up in the Nordby Exhibit Hall, where vendors approved by the National High School Association will sell their wares.
“They sell spurs and hats and anything rodeo-related that you could imagine,” said Laurie Shelton, president and chief executive officer of the Huron Chamber & Visitors Bureau.
Rodeo contestants advance to the national finals by placing among the top four in each event per state. That’s after they have done well at regional events. Huron is hosting a regional rodeo in April, while Rapid City will host the state competition for South Dakota.
Rodeo families from 49 states and Canada will bring their own horses to Huron in large campers and trailers. Competitors from Hawaii will fly their horses to California and then drive them here. Australians will likely lease horses.
“When they come from Canada, they have a quarantine process before they can come in or go back out,” Shelton said. “So sometimes those people have been in the United States for three or four weeks total before they head back home.”
A Huron delegation visited rodeos when they were in Lebanon, Tenn., and Rock Springs, Wyo.
They learned that the two most critical aspects of hosting the event involve quick and efficient registration and swiftly getting the families to their camping spaces.
Registration and check in will be non-stop over three days.
Typically what happens is that the mom and her son or daughter who is competing will check in at the registration table, while dad gets the horses off the trailer, Besch said.
Huron volunteer will then direct mom and the young person to where the horse is to be stalled, while another volunteer takes dad to the camping space after the trailer is cleaned.
Check-in lines are notoriously long.
“These people have been on the road for hours and hours, they’re tired, they’re cranky, they want to get their horses off,” Besch said.
Volunteers from the community are needed for registration, the welcome booth and ticket taking.
She said the committee also wants to have people on the grounds as local ambassadors.
“People of all sorts,” said Candi Briley, assistant manager of the State Fair, “but especially people that know the fairgrounds really well and people that know horses.”
Planners are hoping all of the campers can be accommodated on the state fairgrounds.
“We’re not taking any spectator camping because we’re really concerned,” Besch said. “Because of the size of these rigs (an average of 40 feet) we’re guessing a lot of them are going to have to take up two spaces.”
Some are semis with living quarters and horses trailers all in one unit.
Of course, private housing is a critical need as well. Camper owners may also want to consider renting out their rigs for the rodeo guests.
“Housing’s going to be a big deal,” Besch said. “Restaurants need to be prepared.”
It was just a few years ago that Huron and the surrounding area welcomed the National Red Power Round Up with open arms.
“The community rolled out the red carpet for Red Power and we certainly hope that will be the case again,” Besch said.
“And in the surrounding communities as well, because without a doubt De Smet, Mitchell, they’re going to be housing people, too,” she said.