The Payson Multi-Event Center came alive last weekend as the Gary Hardt Memorial Rodeo premiered at the new rodeo arena in south Payson.
In true cowboy spirit, it was ladies first as the Women's Professional Rodeo Association gave the arena its first official taste of rodeo action.
The next night, the spring rodeo officially got underway with the ribbon cutting by Arena Relocation Coordinator Barry Cardinael, accompanied by Vice Mayor Ken Murphy, Rodeo Boss Bill Armstrong and Former Rodeo Relocation Chair Doug White.
Following the opening ceremonies, a crowd of about 2,500 rodeo rans settled in for nearly three hours of rodeo action, as cowboys from all over the country competed for more than $13,000 in prize money.
It was a rodeo that surpassed the Payson Pro Rodeo Committee's expectations for spring.
"We doubled our best spring (attendance) rodeo ever," treasurer Mike McDonald said. He estimated that 3,100 folks paid to see the show. He expects August to be just as surprising.
Stock contractor Jerry Honeycutt also was pleased with the new arena. He said he had room to move his stock comfortably and the gates worked well. "It's beautiful," Honeycutt said.
"All that is missing is shade," rodeo announcer Wayne Brooks said. He echoed the sentiments of many of the 600 fans who endured an afternoon sitting on metal bleachers to watch the rodeo.
More than $13,000 was handed over to top five cowboys in each PRCA event.
George Aros of Picacho and Steve Sherwood of Queen Creek took home $626.62 each for their first place in the Team Roping.
A saddle bronc horse called The Rock carried Todd Rangle of Prewitt, N.M. into a solid first-place win for $558.72 and Darrell Triplett of Waterflow, N.M. into second where he collected $419.04.
Damian Padilla wrestled his steer to the ground in the fastest time for $787.64 in prize money.
Brent Lewis tossed the best calf rope and brought home $756.60.
Bareback competitor Mark Gomes rode the Red-headed Stranger to the pay window for a check in the amount of $954.48.
Bryan Schrader took a spin on the bull named Spin Doctor, placing first for a $640.20 paycheck.
The All-around title went to Damian Padilla. Not only did he win the steer wrestling, he also competed in calf roping and team roping.