RODEO: SandHills ready for a full house ahead of first performance

There were plenty of questions surrounding the SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo in 2020.

The biggest was whether to even hold the annual event.

With COVID-19 beginning to dominate the newscasts, many of the bigger events on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association schedule were postponing or canceling as restrictions on the size of the crowd and the proximity of spectators were announced and then changed and then changed again.

The rodeo committee at the SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo faced down all those issues and through countless discussions, made the decision that the show must go on.

It did, with a record number of entrants, standing out as one of the only regular winter rodeos to put people in the seats and money in the competitors’ pockets at the end of two weeks.

“We abided by all the rules,” said Nancy McCain, the vice president of promotions for the event. “The way we had to do our seating for the general public, it put us at 33 percent instead of 50 percent and that was really a hit for the rodeo.

“The cowboys need that interaction to put on a really good show. When you are out there performing for somebody and you’re looking up and all the stands are empty, it kind of brings it down.”

That shouldn’t be a problem when this year’s edition kicks off with its first performance at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Ector County Coliseum.

There are no restrictions to the number of spectators allowed at the event and organizers are hoping for full crowds for each of the six performances.

Returning this year will be Christian Youth Night, on Jan. 13. Because of the COVID restrictions last year, that event was canceled, so the committee is happy for its return.

Also back is the annual Super Tuesday roping event on Jan. 11 at the Coliseum and the steer roping competition Saturday and Sunday at Ace Arena in Andrews.

A new event this year will be an Open Breakaway Roping to be held Sunday at the Ector County Coliseum.

“One thing I would like to do is mention the executive committee and volunteers that I get to serve with,” said Gary Don McCain, vice president of the rodeo. “Last year, when all the folks around us — Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston — all those big shows were cancelling and that put more pressure on us.

“But they were brave and said ‘let’s do this, this community needs something to give us something positive to look at’. Once we made that decision and moved forward, the committees and the volunteers stepped in and the community stepped in.”

While the number of entrants this year might not match last year as all the usual winter rodeos are back in action, forcing competitors to pick and chose the best way to plan their schedules, fans in the Permian Basin can expect to see several of the top athletes from the recently concluded National Finals Rodeo in December in Las Vegas.

All Around world champion, and saddle bronc world champion, Stetson Wright of Milford, Utah, has been a regular attendee, as has bareback champion Kaycee Feild.

Steer ropers J. Tome Fisher and Vin Fisher of Andrews will be roping seemingly in their own back yards and four-time bull riding world champion Sage Kimzey, of Salado, likely will make an appearance as well.

>> Follow Lee Scheide on Twitter at @OALeeScheide