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Levi Olinger, left, of Wessington Springs, and Cameron Deinert, of Mount Vernon, both Mitchell Technical Institute students, set down the first layer of plywood to build the rodeo arena in the Corn Palace on Tuesday afternoon in Mitchell. A blue covering and plywood floor are set before dirt is placed over the top to create the arena for the Wilbur-Ellis Corn Palace Challenge rodeo event, which is Friday and Saturday. (Sean Ryan/Republic)

Bulls, broncs to buck in Palace

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Life Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
The Daily Republic
Bulls, broncs to buck in Palace
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

The bulls are back, this time with the broncs.

Saddle bronc riding has been added to this year’s Wilbur-Ellis Corn Palace Challenge, which brought bull riding inside the Corn Palace last year and was the first-ever rodeo event inside the venue.

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This weekend’s events start at 7:30 p.m. Friday with the first round of bull riding. The first round of saddle bronc is at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, and the finals for both events start at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Ticket prices range from $25 to $35.

Saddle bronc is a classic rodeo event in which riders utilize a saddle and attempt to stay on a bucking horse for eight sec- onds. Fifteen South Dakota natives are expected to participate in the saddle bronc competition.

“South Dakota is pretty rich in saddle bronc riders,” said Sheldon Tobin, of Plankinton, the event producer. “The national finals is in Las Vegas each year, and I think about 30 percent of the saddle bronc winners have come from South Dakota. It’s kind of our sport.”

Corn Palace Director Mark Schilling said there are plenty of good seats still available for all three sessions.

“I think we can surpass last year’s attendance total,” Schilling said. “I think it’s a huge thing adding the bronc riding. When you watch that event, it can be every bit as exciting as the bull riding.”

Last year, bull riding was the only offered event, drawing 40 competitors and a total of 2,650 spectators over two nights.

Tobin said last year’s attendance on Friday night was a little slim because of Mitchell’s homecoming football game. This year that won’t be a problem, as the Kernel football team will be on the road.

“Last year, Saturday night filled up really well and I think we were only a couple hundred tickets from selling out,” Tobin said. “Word of mouth was a big deal for us. People told each other how great it was, and that really helped attendance. We’re hoping that happens again this year.”

The total prize money, split evenly between the two events, is $25,000.

Last year, there was about $14,000 of prize money for bull riding.

The bulls at the event will come from three contractors in Kansas, Iowa and North Dakota, while the horses for saddle bronc will come from Iowa and a pair of South Dakota roughstock-producing families — the Suttons, of Onida, and the Korkows, of Pierre.

Schilling said the first steps in transforming the Corn Palace to a rodeo arena started Monday, but the bulk of the work will be done today.

He said it takes nearly two days of work to build up protection for the floor and bring in the dirt.

Tobin is excited to have two well-known former rodeo competitors in Mitchell for the weekend.

Billy Etbauer, a five-time world saddle bronc champion and South Dakota native, will emcee the saddle bronc performances.

Tuff Hedeman, a four-time world bull riding champion, will be the emcee for the bull riding for the second straight year. The bull riding event is sanctioned by Championship Bull Riding, an association that promotes professional bull riding, while the saddle bronc competition is a non-affiliated event.

In addition to the rodeo events inside the Corn Palace, there will also be an outdoor event Saturday afternoon that includes vendors, a band and food and alcohol sales. Main Street, west of the Corn Palace between Sixth and Seventh avenues, will be blocked off from traffic.

Anyone is allowed to attend. Festivities start at noon Saturday, and The Company Cowboys — a band from Wessington Springs — will take the stage a bit after noon and will play for approximately an hour.

See a list of upcoming Corn Palace events here.