Redding Rodeo Keeps It Innovative
● By Melissa Mendonca
By Melissa Mendonca
WHEN THE NATIONAL ANTHEM opens the Redding Rodeo on May 16, the committee that organizes each event will be staring down 70 years of rodeo tradition in the Redding community.
“They have continually grown and it’s a much better rodeo now moneywise than it was in my day,” says 1981 world champion steer wrestler Byron Walker. “They’re reaching out to find new, innovative ideas.”
The Texas cowboy recalls competing in Redding in the late 1970s and he went to the National Finals Rodeo for the first of 16 times at the tender age of 19, the first teenager to do so. In 2014, he was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colo.
Recognizing the work of rodeo committees has been a goal of Walker’s as a member of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. “They’ve really been overlooked for years,” he says. The Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame began inducting rodeo committees, the hardworking men and women who coordinate every last detail of a PRCA event, often without pay, in 2008.
In 2016, the Redding Rodeo took its place of honor in a special ceremony held in Colorado Springs, joining such iconic rodeos as the Pendleton Round Up, Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Cheyenne Frontier Days and Red Bluff Round Up. “Until you get there and see all who have gotten there before you – it’s a humbling experience,” says Bennett Gooch, Jr., Redding Rodeo Committee Chairman. “We’re just little guys from Redding, Calif., putting on the best show that we can, so to be honored like that was pretty special. You’re treated like royalty for a couple of days.”
Walker gives Gooch a lot of credit for bringing the Redding Rodeo to its current stature. “It took an individual with a vision to get out there and hustle and sell tickets,” says Walker. “I was so happy for Redding Rodeo and Bennett,” he adds, noting that he was thrilled the team was there to accept the recognition. “Unfortunately, a lot of times the awards go to guys that are dead.”
Both Walker and Gooch speak highly of the Redding Rodeo’s five year run as a venue for the PRCA’s Champions Challenge as an element moving the rodeo into elite status. “They’re the first ones that jumped off and took the bait and got the Champions Challenge started,” says Walker. “It took a lot of guts to have that challenge on a Saturday night, their biggest night.”
“Just about every competitor in the arena was a current or past world champion,” Gooch says of the Champions Challenge. The event was televised and marketed based on the known equation of who was coming to town to compete. In regular rodeos, a committee may not know who will be competing until the trucks and trailers carrying contestants pull into the parking lot.
“The fans loved it. The contestants loved it, and the sponsors,” says Gooch. “Everyone wanted to be part of it.”
While the PRCA, as Gooch says, “has gone in a different direction” from the Champions Challenge, the Redding Rodeo Committee is still working hard to bring in audiences and take care of its contestants. Since accumulated prize winnings determine a contestant’s ability to advance to the National Finals Rodeo in December, a large monetary reward for each event becomes the draw for contestants to select from around 600 rodeos across the country each season. “Once you’re over $10,000 per event, people start to take notice,” says Gooch. “We’re $11,000 added per event. Essentially, it’s about a quarter-million-dollar purse. Money definitely is key to keeping top contestants showing up every year.”
While the committee is concerned about attracting recognizable names to the competitions, they are also cognizant of creating space for those new to the sport. “We also let permit holders in, the young guys that are just starting out,” says Gooch. “A rookie in 2013 came in and won the thing.”
For fans, there’s something special about the Redding Rodeo Grounds. It’s one of the few not built around a race track and has a capacity of 6,000 seats. While it’s noticeably smaller than most rodeo arenas, that creates an advantage for spectators. “You’re right on top of the action,” says Gooch. “Every seat in the house is close enough that you can see all the details.” With this year’s addition of an Xtreme Bulls event, that’s a unique opportunity to see a cowboy’s wince on a powerful buck and the twist and turn of muscles as the animals do what they’re meant to do.
“They’re not slowing down,” says Byron Walker of the Redding Rodeo committee. “They’re reaching out to find new, innovative ideas. You’ve got to keep it fresh and they’re good at it. They’re real good at it.” •
Redding Rodeo • May 16-19, 2018
Redding Rodeo Grounds • www.reddingrodeo.com