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Bucking the trend: Annual rodeo a ’go’ in Kiowa County

Hannah Brown

The annual Memorial Day weekend rodeo, held each year in Greensburg, was given the go-ahead by the Kiowa County commissioners to proceed with plans for the 2020 event in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioners Bert Lowery, John Bertram and Ron Freeman held a special meeting May 14 to hear discussion surrounding the Greensburg event slated for May 22 and 23 at the Triangle Rodeo Arena. Members of the Triangle Rodeo Club and Medicine River Rodeo Company presented a safety plan to the commissioners.

The plan included several social distancing measures. The bleachers will be sectioned off so there are not large crowds confined in an area. There will not be a traditional concession stand available; instead, there will be food vendors spread out across the grounds.

Contestants will be placed into small groups and only those contestants will be allowed near the bucking chutes. No congregating of any kind will be allowed.

Kerri Ulrich, the Kiowa County Health Department administrator, was present at the special meeting to voice her concerns about public safety with the event.

“The concern is we’re bringing in people from not only across the state but from other states that have had huge numbers of this stuff,” Ulrich said. “We are still at risk for coronavirus spread.”

To ease concerns about these out of county and state contestants coming into contact with local residents, Mike Greenleaf, owner of Medicine River Rodeo, explained there would be a barrier to help deter contestants and spectators from mingling. Members of the rodeo club also agreed to have portable bathrooms and a separate area for refreshments available for contestants to use so they wouldn’t cross the barrier and enter bathrooms used by patrons. Ulrich asked Greenleaf if he would mind asking contestants several questions to help screen those coming to the area to compete, and he agreed without hesitation.

“I myself, I don’t see a huge problem with this,” said Bertram, who represents Haviland and eastern Kiowa County. “I think they have done a good job of preparing.”

After a motion and a vote, the commissioners unanimously approved to allow the rodeo to be held with safety plans in place.

Gov. Laura Kelly imposed phase 1.5 guidelines for reopening the state last Thursday, which still prohibits organized sports gatherings. This nullified the May 14 decision made by the county commissioners. However, on Monday the county commissioners voted to prohibit the use of the bathrooms at the fairgrounds as an additional safety measure and again gave the go-ahead for rough stock rodeo event to be held as planned.

In light of liability issues, the Triangle Rodeo Club members decided to step back as the event organizer and instead leased the rodeo grounds to Medicine River Rodeo, who will carry responsibility for the event.

As the whirlwind of information continued to flow between state, county and rodeo officials Monday, the county got word that rodeos were prohibited under the governor’s phase 1.5 reopening. A special commission meeting was held Monday evening to revisit the decision made that morning. It was determined that the Triangle Rodeo Club would run the beer garden and lease the ground to Medicine River Rodeo, which would put on the event with the original plan in place.

“We feel very strongly this is important for the community for a lot of reasons and we’re very blessed to have gotten the ruling from Topeka that we did today,” said Jamie Brown, spokesperson for Medicine River Rodeo.

At the special evening commission meeting, Greenleaf said events would be limited and a full rodeo would not be possible.

He said the 2020 rodeo will be a rough stock event only. Contestants may compete in bull riding on Friday night or bull riding, bareback, or broncs on Saturday. This decision was made to help limit the number of contestants. Instead of potentially 300-500 contestants, there will be around 75 between the two days of competition.

Greenleaf said Matt Tarr will be the funnyman for the two-day event.

“This is an opportunity to get out of the house, enjoy some fresh air and have some fun,” Greenleaf said. “We all need this.”

Unless a major reversal of support for the annual event occurs, the Medicine River Rodeo Association will open the gates at Triangle Rodeo Arena in Greensburg on Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Kids under 4 get in free, 5-to-12-year-olds are $5 and adults are $10.