As a first time rodeo-goer, I expected to see rough and tumble men spitting tobacco, decked out in 10-gallon hats, leather chaps and 10-o’clock shadows.
But what shocked me most at the 2009 Tough Enough to Wear Pink night at Payson’s World’s Oldest Continuous Rodeo was the effusion of pink shirts, rhinestone belts and purple fringe. It was like a Hannah Montana concert on horses.
The flair was all for a good cause as cowboys and rodeo queens helped raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research.
The next shock sat in the bleachers. I don’t know exactly what I expected — but certainly not stands crowded with twenty-somethings in their night-on-the-town finery.
In my year as a Payson resident, I have never been surrounded by so many people my own age. I can speculate this happened for two reasons.
First, these people were supporting cowboys in the show and are from out of town.
On the other hand, perhaps the event simply lured all those hidden people out of their homes (or maybe it was the Oxbow Saloon dance after the show).
Either way, it was great to see so many people, of all ages, out for the gala.
Even children got into the fun. When the announcer invited kids down to the arena for a dance-off, wee cowboys and cowgirls jumped a six-foot fence faster than a calf running from a lasso.
The crowd roared with laughter at the sight of children doing “the worm” across the arena and then flapping their arms in such crisscrossed, discombobulated ways. In the end, a little tot in a pink shirt with unabashed enthusiasm for shaking his hips won the grand prize.
This brings me to my final observation.
The rodeo is fun. Although you may not know all the rules or nuance, like any good sporting event, you get involved when the players give their all. It was exciting to see cowboys gun out of the gate, lasso a calf, toss it over and tie its legs.
And it’s great to feel like you are taking part in the town’s heritage. For 125 years, cowboys have been lassoing cattle and riding bulls right here in Payson.
Still, while most of the crowd appreciated the show, a cloud hung over some spectators who felt shut out by the Payson Rodeo Preservation Alliance.
Payson High School seniors Duke Becher and Matt Phillips said they’d volunteered at the rodeo for the last three or four years through the Pro Rodeo Committee. Normally, they would show up at the event and a rodeo stock contractor would put them to work organizing stock and running the chutes.
This year when they arrived, they were told there was no work for them.
“I don’t like it because I have never watched it before,” Becher said. Becher said he felt like part of Payson’s rodeo tradition was removed, with new people running the chutes.
“I don’t know the people back there,” Becher said while pointing to the chutes.
Both teens wondered why the Committee could not run it anymore, since they had run it smoothly for so many years. “It has been good every year, so why change it now?” Becher said.
But as the old saying goes, nothing is ever as simple as it seems to two teens who questioned why we couldn’t all just get along.
The dust-up started after the Rim Country Regional Chamber of Commerce decided late last year to cut ties with the mostly volunteer Pro Rodeo Committee and turn the job of running the rodeo over to the newly formed Rodeo Preservation Alliance with Chuck Jackman at the reins.
Becher and Phillips said they are hopeful something can be worked out between the two groups by next year’s rodeo.
This year’s rodeo was great. If it could be made better by the combination of the two groups, it would send the event over the edge. And who knows who that might bring out.