Rotary Rodeo future uncertain in 75th year
41-year Rotarian: ‘There’s a possibility this could be the last one’
Cassville’s 75th annual Rotary Rodeo, sponsored by the Cassville Rotary Club, will be held June 16-17, just like it has been for over seven decades.
Since its first event in the early 1940s, which included bronc riding, bulldogging, calf-roping, Brahma bullriding and a cow milking contest, the event is intertwined with the town’s history and is about as Barry County as it comes.
The event has served its purpose over the decades as a fundraiser for Rotarians to carry out community service projects, and as a community entertainment venue, surviving wars, presidents, social movements, music and clothing fads, the invention of the television, cell phones and the internet.
Back in the early days day, the entire town participated in festivities leading up to the event.
“It used to be, the whole town decorated the windows and merchants wore cowboy hats the week before and there was a big parade,” said Les Chapman, 41-year Rotary Club member and sergeant-at-arms.
Rotarians work each year to prepare the grounds and facilities weeks in advance, but are concerned about dwindling attendance and community interest, and say discussion has been ongoing about whether to continue the event.
“Les spends several hours mowing, weedeating, doing repairs and raking the arena to get it in the best shape for the cowboys,” said Justin Gates, Rotary Club president and banking business relationship manager with Commerce Bank. “And, Rotarians are out there taking tickets, parking cars, covering concessions (the Boy Scouts help), so there are several hours that go into putting the rodeo on.”
Last year, attendance was especially low.
“Very few people come to the rodeo anymore,” Chapman said. “Most come from Oklahoma or Arkansas, but very few from Cassville. There’s a possibility this could be the last one. There’s a lot of work out there for no more than we get out of it. Just like the Bull Blast event — we thought it would be big, but there was hardly anyone on the west side. Rodeoing, unless you’re from Oklahoma or Texas, isn’t much of a thing anymore.”
Chapman said the Demolition Derby, a one-day event, brought in twice as much as the Rotary Rodeo did in two nights.
Whether lower attendance is due to declining interest, competing events, or a sign of the times, the club has had many discussions over the last year about continuing the event, or doing something different with the rodeo grounds, and is planning to make a decision either way.
“We’ve put a lot of thought into it,” Gates said. “We don’t just make a snap decision, we really discuss it and try to do what’s best. We’ve been looking at attendance over the last few years, and the trend has been decreasing, so we’re just thinking, ‘Is this something the community wants to continue to have? Or is there is something else we can bring in that would be more popular?’
“We’ve always done it, and have never asked if this is what the community wants. We’re trying to see what’s best, not only for the club, but the community. If the community want to see it continue, they need to support it. It has been one of our biggest fundraisers, and we’ve relied on its proceeds for our community service projects.”
Gates said tradition factors into the decision, too.
“There are a lot around here who have grown up going to this rodeo their entire life, so there are a lot of memories and friendships surrounding rodeo, but as we know, times change,” he said. “People vote with their attendance, so if it’s decreasing, and if we can do something the community would enjoy better, then we’re all for going that route; we’re a service-oriented organization.”
Stan Kelley, rodeo committee and president of Freedom Bank of Southern Missouri, agreed that attendance and revenue has fallen, but wasn’t ready to concede just yet.
“It’s a point of concern when you see decreasing attendance, and if that continues to be a trend, we have to make a business decision of whether to continue [the event] or not,” he said. “It’s just ironic it’s happened in the past year or two. We’ve always had good crowds, but last year was the least attendance. Overall, you want to look at a more historical trend than just the past couple of years.
“I think we were hoping because it’s one of the few rodeos around that have had that kind of longevity, and we’re very proud of that, it can continue. We’re very thankful for the fans who have come and supported it over the years. It’s quite a feat to be able to continue something for that long.”
Rotarians invite the community to express their opinions on the issue, and to “vote” with their attendance either way at the upcoming event.
“We’re anxious to see how the 75th annual event comes about, and hoping it will be a success, but attendance will have to be evaluated — there’s no question,” Kelley said.
One alternative that has been discussed is using the arena for music concerts.
“We need to think about what else we can use the arena and property for,” Chapman said. “Because the money made is used for community projects like helping school children, foster children, the Boy Scouts, etc.”
Prominent Rodeo Clown Gizmo McCracken will be part of the lineup of events at the rodeo, providing his entertaining antics.
“He’s one of the best around,” Kelley said. “We’re very excited to have him.”