In just a few days, the horse trailers and motorhomes and RVs will begin rolling into the Owens Valley once more.
Only this time, they’re not bringing mules and mule owners from around the country; no, this caravan is reserved for the California High School Rodeo Association State Finals, returning to Bishop for the 10th consecutive year.
Bishop will play host to the 2014 finals and approximately 300 contestants and their friends and family from Sunday, June 8 through Saturday, June 14. Actual rodeo action takes place Tuesday, June 10 through Friday, June 13 as teenagers from across nine districts in California vie for the chance to advance to the national finals in Rock Springs, Wyo. July 13-19.
During the six days the athletes and their families are in Bishop, not only will the national finalists be decided, but a state rodeo queen for 2014-15 will be crowned, local residents will be able to cheer on hometown competitors and, behind the scenes, an army of volunteers will be working to ensure the entire event goes off without a hitch. Pun not intended.
Integral to organizers’ efforts at staging a successful event is the community itself, according to Bishop Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tawni Thomson.
“It really is a community-wide effort,” she said.
That effort begins many months in advance, when the Chamber – as co-host of the state finals along with the Eastern Sierra Tri-County Fairgrounds – begins lining up donors, contributors and volunteers to fulfill its obligations of the contract with the CHRSA.
That contract, which expires in 2017, requires the Chamber to provide lodging for the rodeo judges, announcers and timers; goody bags for contestants; a welcome dinner for the youth and their families; and security at the arena gates.
According to Thomson, local business owners are happy to help, donating what they can and discounting the rest. Thomson said she figures about half of what the Chamber needs to fulfill its contract obligations ends up being donated, such as the $7,000 in lodging this year provided by Creekside Inn, La Quinta Inn, Vagabond Inn, Motel 6, Days Inn and Holiday Inn Express.
Numerous businesses and merchants pitched in products, coupons and gift certificates for the contestant goody bags, which also come with event T-shirts produced by Dee Younger at Mountain Apparel at a significant discount.
Monday night’s welcome barbecue will feed about 900 people, Thomson said, a feat the Chamber will be able to accomplish thanks, again, to support from the business community: Farmer Bros. is supplying coffee; McDonald’s will donate the salads; Vons provides the paper and plastic tableware; Mammoth Brewing has donated a keg of rootbeer for the rootbeer floats; Schat’s Bakkery is supplying the bread; Gillespie Distributing and High Sierra Distributing are providing soda and water; and BP Distributing gave the Chamber “a great price” on the meat being barbecued.
Community members contribute to the rodeo and its success in Bishop in various other ways, Thomson said. “Some give money, some give products, some give their time – it takes a lot of volunteers to pull this off.”
Hundreds of residents volunteer their time to tasks that range from stuffing goody bags to checking in contestants on Sunday to cooking and then clearing tables at the annual welcome barbecue on Monday, to selling tickets to the events and handling gate security.
A perk thrown in for contestants is Jerry Core of Inyo-Mono Title offering his notary services at no charge to the contestants advancing to nationals. According to Thomson, these contestants must have proof of their victories notarized and mailed off by a certain time to qualify for the national finals, and they can have it all taken care of in Bishop.
Chuck Kilpatrick also organizes a queen’s luncheon every year for the district royalty vying for state queen, as well as a scholarship for the outgoing CHSRA queen.
“We’re really good to them,” Thomson said. “When Red Bluff put in their bid last time, financially theirs was better but because of the hospitality and service they get in Bishop, they chose to come back here.”
In addition to the contract-required provision of facilities and ongoing maintenance of those facilities during the rodeo, the Fairgrounds throws in a few extras as well, including a sound engineer for the arena announcers.
“They use almost every building on the grounds while they’re here in addition to the arena,” Fairgrounds CEO Sally Symons said. “And we do a lot of extra, above and beyond. That’s what keeps them coming back.”
Of course, holding the state finals in a community that loves rodeo doesn’t hurt either.
Attendance is always good at the events, with plenty of locals in the stands alongside visiting rodeo fans.
“One thing I’ve learned about this community is they love kids and they love rodeo,” Thomson said.
Tickets are currently available at the fairgrounds, Bishop Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Bureau and KIBS/KBOV. Souvenir buttons are also being sold for $20 that are good for admittance to all four days of arena action.