New Mexico cowboy Dean Daley gets thrown head first during this saddle bronc attempt at Sunday’s performance of the 125th Annual World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo. Despite a smaller turnout on Sunday, Payson officials said 16,000 attended the rodeo on Saturday and claim “the biggest crowd in 25 years.”
The August Doin’s came roaring out of the chutes for the 125th time this weekend, drawing big crowds, filling up hotel rooms and prompting town officials to claim changing horses some place out in the middle of the stream this year worked out just fine.
Payson Tourism and Recreation Director Cameron Davis released unofficial figures suggesting a big increase in attendance this year, despite Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce’s decision to hand the reins over to a new group, the Payson Rodeo Preservation Alliance.
“I want to tell everyone in the town and the community how much I appreciated the time and effort they put in on this event. There were some bumps in the road — but when it came down to it, some major people in this community stepped up.”
Davis estimated the crowd at 16,000 for the main rodeo on Saturday, with perhaps 2,100 on Friday, and 1,800 on Sunday. Davis said he wasn’t sure how many attended last year, but said he expects ticket sales will show big increases.
Davis said most of the rooms in town were all booked starting on Thursday night.
“The crowds were enormous,” said Davis. “Saturday night it was standing room only. (Exhibitors and participants) said they felt like the town truly embraced the event.”
However, some observers who attended various events and some exhibitors said they hadn’t noticed a big increase in attendance over last year.
Moreover, longtime rodeo observers noted the striking change in the supporting cast now that the chamber had replaced the veteran organizers of the Pro Rodeo Committee with a new coalition, which deployed about 75 volunteers, but also relied more on contractors.
This year, the organizers added a number of events outside the rodeo grounds in an effort to turn the World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo into a week-long happening, which represented a return to the event’s community rodeo roots.
The Pro Rodeo Committee, which stages its own rodeo in the spring, also held fund-raising dances at the Oxbow Saloon.
The town staged a big parade down Main Street, which Davis said drew about 75 entrants and solid crowds along both sides of the street. Moreover, Davis said family dances, a Guitar Hero-style competition and other first-time events drew respectable crowds.
“The numbers are still coming in, but this rodeo will be in the black — and we’ll have some money left over.”
Davis noted that money will go back into improving the rodeo grounds and staging next year’s rodeo.
He said he hoped the success of this year’s rodeo will ease some of the rift created by the change in managers this year — especially since the Pro Rodeo Committee’s fund-raising dances drew a good crowd.
“It will be interesting to see what both parties want to do,” said Davis. “The opportunity to work together has always existed.”
Many of the events this year drew community participation.
The Payson School District won the most awards in the Rodeo Parade Saturday, with first place awards for motorized vehicles and marching groups.
The parade was co-chaired by Brian Tolefson and John Wakelin. There were 64 entries with 84 actual units parading.
Presiding as grand marshal was Nancy Sheppard, a world champion trick rider and roper, member of the Pro-Rodeo Hall of Fame, the Cowgirl Hall of Fame and the Cowboy Hall of Fame.
The two celebrity ambassadors were Tim Kempton and Dan Majerle of the Phoenix Suns. Announcing were Eddie Armer, Fred Carpenter and DJ Craig, with assistance from the Phoenix Suns’ announcer Al McCoy.