The historic Black Hills Roundup Rodeo, a Fourth of July celebration unlike no other, topped off 100 years of premier rodeo and community celebration with a centennial edition last year.
That there would be a 101st edition was in doubt a couple of months back as sporting events were put on hold due to the sudden arrival of the coronavirus pandemic.
Fortunately, for the Belle Fouche community, and a whole lot of rodeo participants, the 101st edition of the Roundup will kick off on Wednesday with at the Belle Fourche Roundup Rodeo grounds.
“There was definitely some doubt as to whether we would be able to make it happen this year,” said Keith Anderson, Chairman of the Roundup Rodeo Board. “About six weeks ago we had a meeting, and with things getting a little more lax with restrictions, we decided that if we were going to do it. We had to commit then or we wouldn’t have enough time to do it.”
With the commitment made, the board and the Belle Fourche community stepped up in short order to make it happen.
“Absolutely, there were a lot of extra protocols and a lot of extra work that went into it this year,” Anderson said. “It was a little overwhelming at first, but then we sat down and visited with the mayor and implemented some of the city’s protocols as far as cleaning and sanitizing everything.”
Changes toward creating a safe environment included adding personnel to sanitize grandstand areas on an ongoing basis, and additional food trucks to prevent crowding in snack lines.
“We will have people walking through the stands during the performances and disinfecting the handrails and other things, and we will have five or six food trucks rather than one so that people aren’t congregating in those areas,” Anderson said.
While Covid-19 has necessitated some changes in this year’s Roundup Rodeo, one aspect will remain unchanged: quality rodeo featuring the very best professional rodeo athletes in the world.
And a bunch more than in the past.
“I think there were 988 competitors last year, and we have 1,275 this year,” Anderson said. “As an example, we usually have about 120- or 130-barrel racers, and this year we have 274 signed up.”
Included in the talented field are nine of the top 10 bareback riders in world standings from last year, including world champion Clayton Biglow (Clements, Calif.), eight of the top 10 saddle bronc riders, including world champion Zeke Thurston (Big Valley, Alberta), and in the bull riding field, six-time consecutive world champion (2014-19) Sage Kimsey.
And as always, South Dakota will be ably presented by standout rodeo athletes as well. A pair of Rapid City cowboys— Shane O’Connell and Jamie Howlett — highlight the bareback field while in saddle bronc, former NFR qualifier Cole Elshere (Faith) saddles up on Thursday night, and Eagle Butte’s Shorty Garrett (currently fifth in saddle bronc world standings) is out in Saturday’s Fourth of July matinee.
South Dakota ladies will challenge as well, led by defending barrel racing champion and two-time NFR qualifier, Jessica Routier of Buffalo, and a host of area competitors in both barrels and breakaway roping, a new event added this year. Among them, a trio of sister combinations — Rickie and Taylor Engesser, Shayla and Brooke Howell and Carlee and Savana Johnston, all former state high school champions.
And while ticket sales are down somewhat from previous years, Anderson is optimistic that people will respond to what has been a cherished Belle Fourche tradition dating back to 1918.
“We are hoping that people will decide to walk up and buy tickets. I think that will happen since everybody around here is excited that the rodeo is on this year,” Anderson said while pointing out that the Black Hills Roundup is a community celebration.
Numerous events taking place throughout the week include a carnival (throughout the week), and the area’s largest fireworks display (July 2nd and 3rd) and the annual parade (Fourth of July).
“The parade will go on as will the carnival though it will be cut back a little bit to make room for social distancing," Anderson said. "But, yes, we are very much on track for what we have had in previous years.”
The PRCA rodeo portion of the Black Hills Roundup kicks off Wednesday with the first performance scheduled for 7 p.m. The second and third performances are scheduled for Thursday and Friday at 7 p.m. as well while the fourth and final performance slated for 3 p.m. on the Fourth of July.