CROSSETT, Ark. – This small city in southern Arkansas of nearly 5,000 folks needed a shot in the arm.
Eight months ago, Georgia Pacific decided to shut down its plant in Crossett. As the town’s largest employer, it was a body blow to the community. As if that weren’t enough, the world was hammered by the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, and weeks of isolation turned into months of uncertainty.
The Crossett Riding Club is hoping it has the remedy needed with its annual PRCA rodeo, set for 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 24-Saturday, June 27, at Cap Gates Arena in Crossett.
“We need a community celebration,” said Rob Adkins, the riding club’s president. “Our rodeo has been going on for 72 years, and we just had to wait it out with the COVID-19. We just went through the things that have been shut down, and we thought we’d like to have it.
“We also know what it means to the cowboys and the cowgirls. It’s been shut down for them, so we wanted to have the rodeo for them, too.”
Indeed. Like all other professional sports, ProRodeo shut down in March and only recently resumed in late May. At events in Woodward, Oklahoma, and Coleman, Texas, the second weekend in June, about 800 contestants signed up to compete at each.
They are eager for the sport they love to return, and so are others who make their living in the game.
“For that committee to step out on a limb and take the plunge of having a rodeo and having a plan is amazing,” said Scott Grover, Crossett’s announcer for the last several years. “The easy thing to do is cancel when things like this happen, and it’s hard to work through the challenges to have a rodeo.
“I applaud the committee for the hard work and for having this rodeo. They’re just one of three happening that weekend, so I think they’re going to see big numbers as far as contestants.”
For much of the first 70 years of its existence, the Crossett rodeo occurred the second weekend of August. That changed a year ago, when the committee opted to change its dates to late May and early June. Had the pandemic not delayed things, the rodeo would have remained on that schedule.
“We were able to get on the same dates as the rodeo in Fort Smith (Arkansas), and we believe our number of contestants doubled in size last year,” Adkins said. “The community was a little thrown off by the date change, but I think it made more sense. The weather was more comfortable in regards to the heat.”
The time of year also helped reach more contestants in 2019, because August features more than two dozen rodeos a week through the month spread out all across the country. The schedules in May and June feature far less action, which is why the move was so necessary.
“That rodeo had been in August for a very long time, but they made a good decision to get off that date to get in a time of year where there was a better opportunity to reach the contestants,” Grover said. “With the move again this year because of the virus, they’re going to be the biggest money rodeo of the weekend. That’s a big deal.”
There are still precautions the committee will adhere to in order to make it a great and safe experience for all involved. At the time of the rodeo, the state health department will require that large venues be held to two-thirds their capacity; that means about 3,200 people can be safely in place for the rodeo.
“We will follow the CDC guidelines and will have social distancing set up,” Adkins said. “We will have hand sanitizers all over, and we will be bleaching everything we can before every performance. We’ve always done that, but we’re going to be sure to be more thorough now.
“I work in these mills around here all the time, and we haven’t slowed down any. We’re going to have signs all around the facility. We’re going to do everything we can to take the precautions needed. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
That’s a solid approach, but this isn’t the riding club’s first rodeo; it’s just the first one after a challenging spring. This year’s event will see the return of barrelman Ronald Burton and the trick-riding antics of the Trixie Chicks. Combined with the bucking stock and production from the crew at Pete Carr Pro Rodeo, it should be the perfect medicine for a community that needs it.