GUYMON, Okla. – The Hitch name is as much a part of the Oklahoma and Texas Panhandles as the communities the family ranch surrounds.
It’s only fitting, then, that one of the biggest stadiums in No Man’s Land wears the family name. Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena is home to many of the big events that happen in Texas County, Okla. The biggest event is Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 6; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 7; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 8.
“The Hitches were one of the first ranching families in the area, and rodeo has roots in ranching, so that’s appropriate,” said Melyn Johnson, director of Main Street Guymon and a longtime community supporter. “The Hitches came out before statehood. They were supporters of the community in more ways than anybody could imagine, and I don’t mean just money, but also in time and in passion. They’re probably as close to a community servant as you can get.
“They really feel like they owe back.”
The Hitch brand continues to be a major part of Guymon, and the arena is just one piece of the community that recognizes it. Hitch Arena is city property, not ranch property. Built in 1946, Pioneer Arena was remodeled in 1960, and the city has maintained and repaired it since. In the mid-1990s, renovations on the arena began, and it was rededicated then.
That’s also when the name changed to Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena.
“I know Ladd Hitch wanted it named after his dad,” said Johnson, who was part of the Pioneer Days Rodeo committee at the time. “I think it’s a family that belongs to the Plains more so than the Plains belong to them. They were supporters of the Guymon rodeo from Day 1. Yes, the arena is used for much more than rodeo, but the main thing is Pioneer Days Rodeo.”
The renovations that began in 1994 were plenty, from tearing down the pens and chutes and rebuilding them to installing water lines, new arena lights and fixtures and putting up a new catwalk between the pens. Grant money was put together with local contributions to help fund the project, which was completed primarily by donated labor that reached into thousands of hours.
Years later, rodeo committee members, local businesses and other volunteers built a new concessions area and a large building – outfitted with restrooms – used primarily for hospitality during the rodeo. The third phase of renovations involved Leadership Guymon and several other community volunteer groups built the handicapped accessible parking, covered seating for the handicapped and some landscaping.
In 2010, Guymon’s Convention and Tourism department paid to have some new chutes installed, which was done by community volunteers and businesses. But the work is not done.
“It’s important to the city to upgrade and maintain the arena, and we are doing that,” said Vicki McCune, the city’s community development director.
City Manager Ted Graham said the city is fixing some concrete bleachers by repairing the steps and cracks on the bottom front side of the arena.
“It’s like a makeover on some of the concrete stairwells to make it more appealing on sight and safer to walk on,” Graham said. “The reason for some of this work is a combination of things. Where the arena was built, there is the water infiltration that comes through the bleachers on the hillside. We’d have the drainage issues on the times we do get rain. There was a settlement issue, I think, underneath the stairwells caused by erosion.
“In addition to that, we’re starting to address how we put an all-season parking surface on the parking lot.”
The city has also removed the top cinderblock ticket booth and is installing water lines so it can update the water in the pens and behind the chutes.
“It’s important to know the convention and tourism are the ones who are spending the money on this, which is generated from hotel/motel tax, and that money is generated from events like the rodeo, the bike rally, etc,” Graham said. “That money is allocated for the convention and tourism dollars, and their specific goal is to attract people to the city of Guymon and the surrounding area.”
Guymon is the hub of the Oklahoma Panhandle, and having a top-flight place to play like Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena is an important piece of that pie.
“What we have is pride in having a facility that is better than everybody else’s,” Johnson said. “It’s unique in the way it sits down in a bowl and unique in its size. It’s unique in the concrete and how much concrete is there.”
Another advantage to the facility is that it’s used by Oklahoma Panhandle State University, which has one of the top programs in college rodeo.
“That college tie to being a great rodeo school is why we have cowboys who became part of the rodeo committee,” Johnson said. “That helped us become a great rodeo and a great rodeo town.”