COVID-19 forces cancelation of 65th annual K-State Rodeo

K-State hosted its 64th annual rodeo in Weber Arena on Feb. 15, 2020. The rodeo brought over 500 contestants from 19 colleges and universities from the Central Plains Region over that weekend, but campus COVID-19 restrictions made it impossible for the Rodeo Club to host an event in 2021. (File Photo by Logan Wassall | Collegian Media Group)

Any other year, members of the Kansas State Rodeo Team and Club would make preparations for the annual event they host on-campus. But this isn’t any other year — the 65th Annual K-State College Rodeo was canceled.

As part of K-State’s COVID-19 mitigation measures, campus gatherings are limited to 50 people, but over 400 people from across Kansas and Oklahoma participate in the rodeo annually.

Additionally, thousands upon thousands of spectators come out for the weekend, piling into the stands of Weber Arena. Holding the event on campus was simply impossible, Casy Winn, Rodeo Team and Club coach and animal sciences instructor, said.

There was a glimmer of hope in the fall when, Winn said, the club planned to relocate the annual rodeo to Topeka, but that ultimately fell through after the arena’s parent company Stormont Vail Hospital converted it to an overflow COVID-19 care clinic.

“It stinks, but it is what it is. It’s affecting everyone else as well — not just us,” Winn said.

It’s especially upsetting for seniors like Ryan Bertha, member of the Rodeo Team and senior in park management and conservation, who will miss their last ride in Weber Arena.

Bertha joined the team last year, meaning he only got one opportunity to showcase his bull-riding skills on the home turf.

“Not being able to compete in my last K-State Rodeo and knowing that this year was the last time I ever get to compete in Weber, it’s heartbreaking,” Bertha said. “It’s an amazing crowd, an amazing atmosphere.”

Though he will probably get the chance to compete at the rodeos scheduled at other colleges in the Central Plains region throughout the spring — some rescheduled from original dates in the fall — it won’t be the same. For one thing, having the rodeo on-campus meant his friends and family from K-State and his hometown could see him compete.

Social chair and senior in animal sciences and industry Emily Atkinson said the annual rodeo is also a way to expose students to the culture who maybe never thought about going to such an event before coming to K-State.

“The K-State Rodeo brought in a bunch of college students that I think otherwise wouldn’t have come to a rodeo event,” she said. “They’d come to the K-State Rodeo and it was just kind of a big unifying thing across campus that was just [something] everyone went to.”

Additionally, without the rodeo, the club and team lost their main source of cash. The money raised throughout the weekend of the rodeo is usually enough to cover the club’s expenses — training stock, necessary feed, the team’s tractor, facilities, maintenance — and then some.

The lost revenue stream combined with other lost fundraising opportunities and the freeze on travel allocations to sports clubs from the Student Governing Association leaves the group relying on reserve funds.

“We’re going to have a struggle, our budget is going to be cut,” Winn said. “We’ll be OK, but we’re going to have to find more creative ways to bring in some funds and really be careful with our budget.”

Winn has hope for next year, though.

“Part of us portraying the Western lifestyle … is that resiliency of ‘We’ll keep working, we’ll do our best [to] work within the guidelines we’re given to be successful,’” Winn said. “We’re looking forward to having a super great rodeo when we come back next year.”

My name is Kaylie McLaughlin and I'm the ex-managing editor and audience engagement manager of the Collegian. Previously, I've been the editor-in-chief and the news editor. In the past, I have also contributed to the Royal Purple Yearbook and KKSU-TV. Off-campus, you can find my bylines in the Wichita Eagle, the Shawnee Mission Post and KSNT News. I grew up just outside of Kansas City in Shawnee, Kansas. I’m a senior in digital journalism with a minor in French and a secondary focus in international and area studies. As a third-generation K-Stater, I bleed purple and my goal is to serve the Wildcat community with accurate coverage.