SPOONER — At the May 18 meeting of the Spooner Rodeo Committee outside at the Washburn County Fairgrounds, the mood was one of sadness.
Even before Committee Chairman Dick Fankhauser spoke, most people had a good idea what was coming.
“We’ve got some pretty serious things to look at tonight that we don’t normally have to,” said Fankhauser.
Like the rest of the state and country, Washburn County is shutting down right and left, from schools and businesses to the cancellations of events such as various sports, the Spooner Block Party and others.
The one candle in the darkness that had offered hope was the Spooner Heart of the North Rodeo set for July 9-11, hanging on. But on May 18, the candle was blown out.
There will be no 67th Spooner Rodeo this year.
Following the old business, Fankhauser got to the new business section of the meeting.
“The status of the rodeo,” began Fankhauser. “We have reached the stage where we must decide to postpone until 2021, or go ahead.”
“Realistically, we need about 5,000 people a night,” pointed out committee member Rick Coquillette.
“We’re under guidelines from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) that would limit the amount of attendees from 5,700 down to 1,290,” said member Mark Schultz. “There is no way this would be financially sound.”
“At 1,222 people a night, based on square footage a night with social distancing, we come up very short,” said Coquillette.
“Realistically, if we had a rodeo this year, it would be the last one for a long time,” said Fankhauser, pointing to the finances.
Committee member Kathy Sharkey Bush also pointed out that a lot of the Spooner Rodeo Committee members themselves are at high risk because of their ages.
A member of the group brought up a very good question.
“If we have the rodeo, and we have a spike, what would that look like for the future? What would that do to our reputation of a quality show? It could really make people angry.”
“I don’t want to be the chairman of a wake,” said Fankhauser.
Committee member Kate Peck said she had been in touch with the Country House Motel.
“I was told they aren’t opening up for the season,” said Peck. “That could be the case elsewhere. There would be no place for to stay.”
The idea of holding a rodeo during the pandemic was getting darker and darker as the reality of finances set in.
Prize money, fees, judges, contestants, utilities, ambulance service, concessions, food and beverages, food for stock, restrooms, electricity, and many, many more expenses were taken into account, and the numbers did not add up for having a reduced Spooner Rodeo in 2020.
“Do we reschedule?” asked Fankhauser. “We save $250,000 by not having a rodeo. That would put us in good stead for next year. Letters have already been written if we decide we’re not going to have a rodeo.”
Fankhauser pointed out that to this point, only about $100,000 had been taken in, far short of funds needed. Would people come? The cowboys wouldn’t be a problem, they would get here. But how do you pay them? What do we want to do with the rodeo?”
It was not a hard decision to make. The 67th Spooner Rodeo was rescheduled for next year, July 8-10, effectively canceled for this year.
“I never had the faintest idea something like this could ever happen,” said Fankhauser. “I do get kind of angry when they treat Northern Wisconsin like an orphan child of the south, but then when there is a problem in the south, they slam us.”
Ticket sales ended
Ticket sales were shut down on Tuesday. 4-H clubs and other organizations were contacted.
“If you got tickets already, they will be replaced by tickets for the Spooner Rodeo in 2021,” said Fankhauser.
Just last week, the new royalty for the 67th Spooner Rodeo in July was chosen, fully aware that COVID-19 could impact their reign.
“Samantha Kennell of Hayward is our Queen, and Ashlynn Norton, a Spooner girl, is Princess,” said Kate Peck of the Queen Committee. “We will give the girls the option of being royalty for next year. I think the likelihood they will do it is very good. Both of them are very young. They will be able to get more experience.”
No BBQ in 2020
Along with the already announced cancellations of the Spooner Block Party — separate from the Spooner Rodeo, but leading into Spooner Rodeo Weekend — and the hugely popular Spooner Rodeo Parade, which annually brings thousands to Spooner, the official start of the rodeo season has also been canceled for 2020 due to COVID-19.
At the meeting it was also decided that there would be no Spooner Rodeo BBQ.
“If we are not going to have the rodeo, which we are not,” said Fankhauser, “there will be no Rodeo BBQ this year.”
The Spooner Rodeo BBQ in June annually gives the public and people involved with the rodeo a chance to relax as they kick off the season.
Along with good food, the media has the chance to interview the Queen and Princess, Rodeo Committee persons, and often specialty acts and members of the Barnes PRCA Rodeo Company, which provides stock for the Spooner Rodeo and has since 1954.
As COVID-19 continues to impact not just Washburn County but the entire world, times have become very tough everywhere as seemingly everything is being canceled and postponed.
As mentioned, Marty Barnes and the Barnes PRCA Rodeo Company have been stock contractors, and partners, with the Spooner Rodeo since the very beginning.
“Marty has only had one rodeo this season, and that was in February,” said Fankhauser. “Nobody is working. Marty and his son have a trucking company, so they will do okay. They have other things going besides rodeo.
“But this is not good for anybody. Rodeos across the country are closing. Even the Calgary Stampede canceled — you can’t cross the border, so they can’t get cowboys. Most rodeos have canceled. Right now, there will be no Great Lakes Circuit Finals, and if the cowboys can’t get the rodeos in, there may be no National Finals.”
Before COVID-19 broke out, the 67th Spooner Rodeo was shaping up to be possibly the biggest ever.
“Our ticket sales were well ahead of any other year in the first part of February,” said Fankhauser. “After the bug, ticket sales were flat. We have had some sales, but not a lot.
“It hurt everything. Kelly Kenney (Spooner Rodeo announcer) is not working, and may have to go back to teaching. We had vendors wanting to know if we were still in business.”
And now all concerned will have to be told that, for the summer of 2020, there won’t be a rodeo in Spooner.
“If somebody would have told me 33 years ago that in my 34th year as chairman this would happen, I’d never believe it. But we have to protect ourselves and have money for next year.”
“And, if somebody came here, got it, and it spread, there goes your reputation,” added Schultz. “Reputation is so important. They might not even have gotten it here, but if they said they did, there it goes. This is the best thing we can do right now.”
And so, for right now, the Spooner Rodeo Arena will remain silent, without the thundering cheers from the excited crowds, spurred on by the deep voice of announcer Kelly Kenney.
There will be no Exceptional Rodeo for special needs children, no crowds lining Highway 63 for the Spooner Rodeo Parade on Saturday afternoon.
No Lions Club Bar-B-Que, no live music after the rodeo performances, no broncs and bulls exploding from the chutes being challenged by the most talented cowboys in the sport of professional rodeo.
But only for a summer.
“The 67th Spooner Rodeo will take place next year,” said Fankhauser. “It isn’t over, it is just postponed.”