Warszawski: Looking ahead to Rodeo 2114 is no easy roundup

The Fresno BeeApril 26, 2014 


Billy Bugenig from Ferndale, Calif. in the Steer Wrestling portion of the Clovis Rodeo Saturday, April 26, 2014 in Clovis, Calif.


Now that the 100th Clovis Rodeo is in the books (practically), it's time to start thinking ahead.

Like way, way ahead. Not just a year or two into the future, but 100.

Try to picture the last weekend of April of the year 2114. Now imagine what the 200th Clovis Rodeo might be like.

"I think it'll look pretty much the same," said Linda Burdick, executive director of Friends of Rodeo, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving America's Western heritage.

"Rodeo is a tradition. It's about cowboys and cowgirls and the animals they love to work with. That's not going to change."

Not sure I agree, just from the standpoint that nothing stays the same.

One hundred years ago, the first Clovis Rodeo bore no resemblance to the four-day extravaganza that exists today. It wasn't even called the Clovis Rodeo. The "spring festival" was simply a town picnic and parade with a few horse races between ranchers thrown in for entertainment.

Early on, rodeo events were held in a makeshift arena formed by a circle of wagons about a quarter-mile from the current rodeo grounds. A wooden grandstand was built on the site in the 1930s and replaced by the current concrete one in 1950.

The concrete grandstand remains, but other upgrades have been constant. This year, officials unveiled new VIP suites whose $100,000-plus price tag was offset by corporate sponsors.

In 1914, VIP suites and corporate sponsors would've sounded as foreign at a rodeo as ancient Greek.

And if the first parade was held under threatening skies, as was the case Saturday for the 100th, no one pulled smartphones from their pockets to check Doppler radar.

So, again, what might the 200th Clovis Rodeo look like?

"It won't rain on the 200th — I guarantee it," rodeo association President Chuck Rigsbee joked.

"I bet the girls are better looking," answered tie-down roper Caleb Twisselman of Santa Margarita, "which is saying something because they're pretty good looking right now."

"Laser ropes?" suggested Ben Genco, one of the event's technical directors. "Heck, I don't know."

Will there even be a Clovis Rodeo in 2114? It's a fair question.

By writing this column, I'm practically guaranteed to get emails from animal-rights advocates declaring rodeo as "barbaric" and "cruel."

Those people have a right to their opinions.

Just like the rest of us have the right to ignore them. But who can predict where society will be in 100 years.

Rodeo, of course, traces its origins to ranching, and most of the modern-day events evolved directly from ranch labor.

Sure, there are some ranches left where "real" cowboy work continues to be performed. Just not as many as there used to be. And over the next century, probably even less.

As those links to the Old West continue to fade, will rodeo vanish as well?

Burdick, for one, doesn't think so.

"Heritage and tradition are important to people," she said. "Those things just don't disappear."

Cade Swor, a tie-down roper from Chico, Texas, agreed: "I don't think rodeo is going anywhere. It's a way of life. We're a dying breed, but we're a strong breed."

John Growney, a stock contractor who provides the Clovis Rodeo with many of its bulls and bucking horses, isn't as certain.

"If we don't protect agriculture, rodeo will be the first to go," Growney said. "We take too much for granted in this country.

"People think chocolate milk comes from chocolate cows."

Growney was heartened during a recent trip to China with the American Quarter Horse Association. Most of the people he encountered there knew only two words of English: American cowboy.

"And it's all because of Marlboro cigarettes," Growney said.

Interesting, but I've strayed from my original premise: What might the 2114 Clovis Rodeo be like?

To get a serious answer, turns out I needed to track down a rodeo clown.

"Right over there's going to be a new two-story parking lot for our floating cars," replied JJ Harrison of Walla Walla, Wash., pointing with his index finger.

"This whole place will have a Jetsons-type feel — and there's going to be more pets than people."

Why? Human overpopulation, of course.

Harrison also envisions the rodeo grounds being enclosed inside a retractable dome that can be opened when the air is healthy enough to breathe and closed when it isn't.

Don't laugh. That isn't so far-fetched.

Judging by his answers, it would seem the rodeo clown already has given some thought to the 200th Clovis Rodeo.

"Oh, I've already offered to come back in 100 years," Harrison said. "I plan on pickling myself and going into a biogenetic freeze."

Betcha no one thought of that in 1914.


The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6218, marekw@fresnobee.com or @MarekTheBee on Twitter.

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