RODEO: SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo must work within COVID-19 restrictions

Putting everything together for the annual SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo is not an easy task for vice president Gary Don McCain. Making matters more complicated this time around is adjusting operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the 88th edition gets set to begin this weekend at the Ector County Coliseum, McCain said that leading the rodeo executive committee and making the event happen this year has been an eye-opening experience.

“There’s a lot of rules and regulations involved with putting an event on and following all the safety guidelines,” McCain said. “It’s been tough, but it’s been interesting to realize what it takes to keep fans and people in general safe.”

McCain said that the rodeo is implementing safety measures put in place by the city of Odessa, Ector County as well as the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). That includes everything from social distancing measures to hand sanitizer stations.

It may look a little different this time around, but McCain said it was important to provide some sort of continuity with the event that’s been held since 1933.

“It’s no secret. These cowboys want to go rodeo,” he said. “It’s how they make their living.”

The rodeo typically marks the beginning of the season for cowboys all across the country and saw a bump in entries last year after being designated as one of the 60 Tour rodeos on the schedule. Winning in Odessa meant earning a spot at the Houston Stock Show and Rodeo.

It will serve as a qualifier once again except the winners will qualify to the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, currently slated to take place Feb. 11-28. The ultimate goal still remains the same: to earn a spot in the National Finals Rodeo. The 2020 NFR was moved to Arlington last December compared to its usual location in Las Vegas.

“We’ll have world champions here, no doubt,” McCain said. “They’re fighting for another world title and this is the start of that right here. We also have guys that didn’t make it to NFR that haven’t competed in months. They’re coming to Odessa and it’s going to be a really good deal.”

Among those slated to compete at the SandHills Stock Show and Rodeo include 2020 PRCA Rookie of the Year and former Odessa College cowboy Ky Hamilton.

Other top bull riders slated to compete are six-time world champion Sage Kimzey, defending SandHills champion Colten Fritzlan and Chase Dougherty, who won the PBR Caveman Invitational back in August.

Bareback rider and first-time NFR qualifier Leighton Berry is also set to compete along with Fort Davis cowboy Trey Chambliss. A pair of NFR qualifiers in barrel racing — Jimmie Smith and Stevi Hillman — are also slated to compete in Odessa this year.

There are also several local cowboys and cowgirls competing, including Matt Kenney and Charlie Gibson in roping and Odessa’s Katelyn Scott in barrel racing.

The event also added a ‘special section’ for saddle bronc and bull riding Thursday night due to the massive increase in the number of entries. There will still be the usual six performances with the first one beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday.

McCain estimated that the number of entries to the rodeo this year is almost double compared to the 2020 edition. In total, he expects around 1,100 competitors over the course of the two weekends.

He added that just getting the chance to come out and compete again is something that he’s heard from several cowboys planning to make their way to the Permian Basin.

“There’s a lot of camaraderie between these guys,” he said. “They may not travel in the same vehicle. They all see each other at the rodeos. It’s a tight-knit group and they’ll be glad to see each other.”

>> Follow Tony Venegas on Twitter at @OA_TVenegas