I had been forewarned about longtime Payson Rodeo Boss Bill Armstrong. One member of the Payson Pro Rodeo Committee, who preferred not to be identified, put it this way: "You better rope and hogtie that old boy, because Bill don't stand still for long."
Fortunately, a couple of years ago, we met at his jewelry and pawn shop early one morning before it opened. I say fortunately because besides running a business, it was spring rodeo time and Bill has a lot on his mind.
He said he was raised in Winslow, but eventually ended up in the Valley before moving to Payson 26 years ago to get his kids out of the big city.
Almost since he arrived Bill has been involved in rodeo.
"It's our heritage," he said. "There's a lot of people moving up here who don't realize what this town's all about, and that's sad."
It's been a while since Bill actually participated in the sport himself.
"I used to ride a long time ago when I was a kid. But my folks wanted me to participate in football and track so I could get a scholarship. There weren't any rodeo scholarships back then."
The 2001 edition of the Payson Spring Pro Rodeo-Gary Hardt Memorial will once again feature some of the top cowboys and cowgirls in the United States.
Festivities kick off with a Family Night Friday, May 11, followed by official Dodge Truck Series PRCA rodeos Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.
"I'd especially like to push our Friday night event for the family," Bill emphasized. "The local girls run by themselves. Then the professionals run. Then they do a pro-am type of deal. Everybody's welcome. It starts at 7 p.m., and all it costs is a can of food. We want to help fill the food bank back up."
Saturday, the gates at Payson Rodeo Grounds open at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 11 a.m., with PRCA rodeo action beginning at 7 p.m. and 1 p.m. respectively. Events include bareback riding, calf roping, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping, bull riding, and women's barrel racing.
The all-female 'Las Vaqueras De Tucson Quadrille Team will perform at both rodeos, along with renowned rodeo personality Johnny Pope, and clowns Donny Landis and Matt Lucking.
Admission to the Saturday and Sunday rodeo is $10 for adults, $5 for children ages six to 12, and admission is free for those five and under. Tickets can be purchased in advance at Famous Sam's, the Mazatzal Casino, or Armstrongs shop at 1104 South Beeline Highway, or at the main gate on the day of the performance.
The country band Harry and the Gila Monsters will provide music Saturday from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. at Mazatzal Casino. Attendees must be 21, and the cover charge is $5.
"All the money this rodeo committee takes in goes right back to the kids and the senior citizens of Payson," Bill emphasized. "When anybody really needs us, we're there for them."
Bill is especially proud of the committee's scholarship program. "We give out five $1,000 college scholarships a year to Payson High School seniors. It's based more on need than academics."
But there's something else about rodeo that makes Bill stay involved. "Rodeo's a family deal. It's a time to get the whole family together and have a good, wholesome fun time.
"I just love kids, and I love the town. It has given a lot to me, and I just try to give something back to the town and the people of Payson."