Campbell commissioners back plan to hold rodeo championship in Gillette

GILLETTE — Campbell County Commissioners and Campbell County Public Health support a plan for Cam-plex to possibly host the National High School Finals Rodeo in July.

Cam-plex general manager Jeff Esposito and the Campbell County Public Land Board met with commissioners Tuesday morning to go over the plan and make sure all groups are on the same page.

The National High School Finals Rodeo was scheduled to be in Lincoln, Nebraska, on July 19-25, but because of the state’s health restrictions, it can't be held there.

On Friday, the National High School Rodeo Association called Cam-plex and asked if Gillette could host the event.

The National High School Rodeo Association has a proposed plan for the rodeo that was created in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Campbell County Public Health Executive Director Jane Glaser said she and Public Health Officer Dr. Kirtikumar Patel have looked over the plan and think it’s “very well-written.”

“We support this with the understanding that if something goes awry, there is always that potential that it could have to close down,” Glaser said. “I think everyone across the nation is aware of that.”

For the rodeo to happen, the plan would have to be approved by the state health officer. Public Health talked with the rodeo association on the suggested changes. As of Wednesday morning, it's waiting to receive the plan back from the association before submitting it to the state.

Public Health response coordinator Randy Bury said the plan addresses most of the concerns that Public Health had, including social distancing, disinfecting and limiting the number of contestants and spectators.

The rodeo association expects to have 1,100 contestants and 1,500 horses, down from 1,590 contestants and 1,943 horses in 2019.

Every contestant, parent, guardian, staff member and production team member, including vendors and contractors, will be asked to sign a social responsibility pledge and waiver, which highlights the importance of complying with the guidelines.

Face coverings will be required in arenas and recommended around the rest of the grounds, particularly if 6 feet of distance is not possible.

Glaser said the one change she’d make to the proposal is to require all competitors be screened each day for symptoms of the coronavirus.

“If anybody’s showing signs, they’re out,” she said.

Bury said he’d like to see the rodeo association patrol the campgrounds to make sure people are social distancing.

Glaser said when it comes to the health of the community and contestants, the rodeo could go either way.

“It could go great or we could have a spike in cases,” she said. “I think the way the plan is written, it will help mitigate spread.”

Commission Chairman D.G. Reardon asked Glaser what the “state’s taste” for this is, since last week it was announced that the state’s six largest rodeos, including Cheyenne Frontier Days, would not happen this summer.

Glaser said while she can’t speak for the state, the National High School Finals Rodeo is different from those canceled events.

“A lot of the reasons behind the other ones being canceled were the activities, it wasn’t just the rodeo,” she said. “By taking out those other activities that would typically be at this (event), I think we have a better shot at getting this because we’re limiting those things.”

Commissioner Bob Maul said another thing that works in the favor of the event happening is that the rodeo association is very strict about its rules.

“If you do something that is inappropriate, you load your horse trailer and you’re out of here. They don’t tolerate it, any way, shape or form,” he said. “That’s going to be a plus. If they lay down the rule, that’s what’s going to happen.”

“They have a control over those high school rodeo students that doesn’t exist in other rodeo venues,” said Land Board member Charlene Camblin.

If the state allows the rodeo to happen, Cam-plex would have a month to prepare for an event that usually takes it a year.

County Administrative Director Carol Seeger asked if Cam-plex anticipates having trouble finding enough volunteers. That was one of the reasons Cheyenne Frontier Days had to cancel.

Esposito said he’s had a lot of interest from the community, but acknowledged there might not be as many volunteers available, so the rodeo association may have to hire extra help.

Camblin said there are “very few venues” in the country that can pull off a move of the NHSFR, and “we’re at the top of the list.”

She added that there will have to be some changes, such as streamlining the check-in process and changing the competition schedule so that contestants aren’t waiting three or four days between their competitions.

And when contestants are done competing, they must leave instead of hanging around the rest of the week.

In two weeks, the state went from allowing gatherings of 25 to allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 250 people. It’s possible that larger groups could be allowed in the coming weeks.

“The problem is the rodeo needs an answer right away,” Glaser said.

Both Commissioner Rusty Bell and Chairman D.G. Reardon talked about the possibility of having Gillette be the permanent host for the National High School Finals Rodeo.

“The effort to have them here permanently is something that comes up virtually every time we talk,” Esposito said.

“It might bode well for us the next time we ask, if we can pull this off,” Reardon said.