Many people look forward to the nights of rodeo at the Labette County Fair.
This year, for the first time in more than two decades, a new stock contractor/producer, Kyle Robinson, owner of Big Horn Rodeo Co., will handle the rodeo.
“Years back we used to have some little ranch rodeos. When we started going back to having a full-fledged rodeo at the fair, it had to be right around 25 years ago because that’s when I met and hired Wayne (Barnes) with Barnes & Sons and we’ve had him ever since,” fair rodeo chairman Rick McKinzie said. “He spoiled us. The fair board never tried to shop for another contractor because there was no need to. Then he announced a year ago he was going to retire, so we started shopping then. A few of us started going to some different rodeos and watching different contractors.”
Barnes & Son Rodeo of Tahlequah, Oklahoma, was a 17-time American Cowboys Rodeo Association Producer of the Year, so finding a quality replacement was crucial for the fair board.
McKinzie said there are not a lot of ACRA rodeo producers in a 300-mile radius of Oswego.
“There’s not that many that are doing it anymore. I talked to this guy (Robinson) a couple of times. He had a rodeo over at Neosho, Missouri, and we went over and watched it. It was really good and we talked to a lot of the contestants and that’s who they recommended, too,” McKinzie said. “And, so far, he took over about 90% of what the other guy had the previous years. He actually bought some of his stock, too, so he is kind of just going on like the other guy did.”
Robinson hails from Lamar, Oklahoma.
“This guy has been in business a long time. He’s not new to the game, but he’s new to us,” McKinzie said. “I’ve kept in contact with him every few weeks here during the season.
“What is exciting so far is his contestant count is up, especially bull riding. The last five years, it’s been tough to get bull riders. There’s not a lot of amateur bull riders anymore. It seems like there used to be a lot of high school kids that wanted to go impress their girlfriend or shock their friends. There’s not a lot of them anymore. The last five years, we’ve struggled to get 10 bull riders. Naturally, that’s what people come to see for the main event.
“Even at the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) rodeos, they have trouble getting bull riders. It seems like once they get really good, they go to the PBR (Professional Bull Riders) and go for the big money, but there’s not a lot of people that just do it on the weekends anymore, I guess is what I’m saying. It used to be, ‘in the good ol’ days,’ the area county rodeos would get 20 to 25 bull riders.
“Of course this guy is getting a lot of people that follow him down around where he lives. Knock on wood, I hope it continues, but this guy has been getting 15 to 20 bull riders. We’re hoping they come this far. Hopefully they will keep following him and we’ll have that many, too,” McKinzie said.
Erie used to host a really big rodeo a while back, but it’s declined over the last 10 years. The last four or five years, he said, it has had two or three bull riders.
“That’s got to be disappointing when you go to watch. It will be interesting to see if he gets a following. People will be really excited if they get 10 or 12,” McKinzie said.
Some of the depletion in numbers could be due to some contractors having bulls that are meaner, resulting in amateurs staying away. McKinzie said he would also. Robinson, however, has stock that are better for amateur bull riders to take on, which he hopes will bring more riders in.
Robinson secured the contract for the 39th annual American Legion Rodeo July 16-17 in Erie and then he also got Fredonia in addition to Labette County.
“He’s having a series with us, Erie and Fredonia, and whoever wins the most money at those three rodeos, he’s giving like a $500 bonus per event. We’re hoping that will be a draw to come enter all three of them to draw that bonus,” McKinzie said. “We kind of came up with that this winter, hoping it would help us all. We’re excited.”
McKinzie said he will head over to watch the Erie rodeo.
“You never know, you may learn something off of someone else’s rodeo. Of course I’ve been around it for 40 some years, all of the country. We rodeoed ourselves. I know enough about it to know if you get a good contractor and a good announcer and a good clown, you can make up for a lot of average stuff in there. An announcer and clown will keep the rodeo going and keep people’s attention.
“We got Gizmo (a clown) back again. I’m telling you, there is nobody better in the United States, let alone locally. He was here in 2016. He travels, even outside of the United States. … He does this year round, every week. He’s as good as they come. He does a lot of other stuff too.
Gizmo McCracken has been entertaining crowds for more than 25 years.
He became a member of the PRCA in 1992. Since that time his list of accomplishments has grown beyond belief. Working 11 PRCA Circuit Finals Rodeos, Dodge National Circuit Finals and Cheyenne Frontier Days twice, he was nominated for Comedy Act of the Year twice. His biggest accomplishment was being a feature act at the 2005 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Gizmo takes pride in the fact that his humor is good, clean, family-style comedy.
“Even people that don’t follow rodeos will remember Gizmo. He’s done Coffeyville (Inter-State Fair and Rodeo) a couple of times and he’s done Vinita (Oklahoma) a couple of times. People that travel to go to all the rodeos know his name. That no doubt helps bring in people to watch.”
Both nights of regular rodeo offer the same events, just with a clean slate of contestants each night.
The only exception is the junior barrel race, which is a local contest. The winners of each event will be the top scorers from both nights combined.
The thing that will be really hard to replace is the timing and flow of the events, which Barnes & Sons kept moving along to try to wrap up the rodeo by 10 p.m.
Robinson happened to hire the announcer who worked with Barnes & Sons the last 12 or 13 years, which McKinzie hopes makes all the difference in keeping things moving along.
“The new guy has hired this announcer, so he knows our setup, and he can try to keep things going, and that helps tremendously. And, he’s worked with Gizmo, and that also helps,” he said. “They’ve got to know each other to keep the act going. I’ve been to some, you could tell it was the fist time they ever met, and it is a little bit hard to mesh with the crowd because they are both on the microphones at the same time. That they know each other will help.”
Admission to the rodeo will cost $10 for adults and children 13 and up and $5 for children 6 to 12. Kids 5 and under will get in free.