Fond Memories Of The Old Arena At Rumsey Park

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I’ve been covering, for the Payson Roundup, the past 23 August Doin’s. Before that, I usually found a way to be in Payson during the rodeo weekend enjoying the fun and excitement.

With the rodeo set for this weekend, a reader asked what my favorite memories of the rodeo are.

That’s an easy question to answer — they are of the rodeos at the old rodeo grounds located in Rumsey Park where the multi-purpose field is now located.

The arena had a Wild West, buckaroo ambience that made it the perfect place for ridin’ and ropin’ rodeo action.

It was such a distinctive arena, overflowing with character and personality. A favorite retreat of all was on the north stands — made of aging wood — that was shaded making it a perfect place to hide from the hot August sun.

Towering ponderosa pines surrounded the arena lending a type of woodsy aura to it.

Under the main stand a row of food booths were manned by volunteers representing charities and non-profits. In those booths, hundreds of dollars were earned each August to fund worthwhile causes.

As a Payson High School football and basketball coach, I — along with all the other coaches — were asked to volunteer to work the booster club booth which sold nachos, cold drinks, candy and popcorn.

Of course, we’d always round up a number of players to help. Because the rodeo was always held about the time the football season began, we didn’t have a difficult time enticing players to work.

Their motivation was to volunteer or pay the consequences at the next practice.

That might now be a form of blackmail — but in the mid ’80s it worked well.

Of course, it’s impossible to forget, no matter how long the grounds have been gone, the pungent, distinctive odors that wafted out of that span of small food booths. The aromas drifted upward and through the stands enticing the crowds into standing in long lines to buy fry bread, hamburgers, barbecue and popcorn.

Selling concessions was fascinating mostly because the rodeo drew a diverse group of flatlanders who felt that since they were out of the big city, they could do, say and wear anything they wanted.

Those bizarre visitors created more than a few belly laughs in coaches and players.

Some tales from those days shouldn’t be written in a family newspaper, but they were memorable.

Most often, the coaches and players could usually find a few minutes to escape their duties and find a perch atop fence or corral to take in the rodeo action. At those lookouts, the rodeo turned up close and personal. From there it was also easy to strike up a friendly conversation with a cowboy waiting his next event.

Some visitors didn’t attend to see the rodeo. They were there to people watch, stroll around one of the most historic arenas in Arizona, make new friends and perhaps find a date for that evening’s dance.

A real social happening was going on in the rodeo grounds.

The arena — which in yesteryear was the home site for chili cook-offs, fiddlers contests, country music festivals, as well as rodeos — exuded a small town ambience and character that rendered it both unique and irreplaceable.

When it was burned down, Payson lost a piece of its soul.

Holidays for kids

The Public Safety Officers Christmas for Kids golf tournament begins at 6 p.m., Friday, Aug. 28 with a steak dinner and silent auction of public safety officers at Payson Golf Course.

Each team of three that enters the benefit will have the opportunity to buy their fourth team member from a group of individuals representing the Department of Public Safety, Gila County Attorney’s Office, Payson Fire, Northern Gila County Firefighters Association and the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.

Also at the auction, mulligans can be purchased.

At 8 a.m. the following day, a shotgun start gets the tournament off and running.

The tournament entry fee is $375 per team and the minimum bid for a public safety team member is $150.

The cost includes green fees, golf cart, steak dinner and prizes.

Traditionally, about $18,000 has been earned through the golf tournament and other benefits. All the money is used in the Christmas for Kids program.

Last year, 480 children were given the chance to purchase $35 of gifts from Walmart.

The children are urged to buy some toys and use the remaining money for much-needed clothes.

For many of the children in need, those gifts were the only ones they received.

Entry forms into the tournament are available at the Payson Roundup, 708 N. Beeline Highway.

Town archery

The Town of Payson Parks and Recreation Department is partnering with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to host an after-school archery program.

The registration fee is $30 and parents may sign up their children at the P&R offices located at Green Valley Park. Registration closes Sept. 3.

The course is open to youths in fourth- through 12th-grades.

It meets 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. each Monday and Wednesday from Sept. 9 to Sept. 30.

This year, however, the series is a victim of recent town budget cuts and activities will be scaled down from last fall.

“We don’t have money for instructors so we are relying on volunteers only,” said Mary McMullen the outdoors and trails coordinator for the Town Parks and Recreation Department.

Volunteers can be hard to come by because they must be certified archery instructors.

McMullen has been able to round up two teachers to help — Denny Harger and Ken Crump.

“But we can only take 10 (students) in the program and we already have two,” McMullen said.

“Those interested should sign up soon.”

This year, the program moves from the Tonto Rim Sports Club’s Jim Jones Shooting Range to JRE school where PE teacher Donna Moore has erected an “archery curtain” that allows for indoor shooting.

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