After serving as a summer staple in Mitchell for 49 consecutive years, the Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo has fallen victim to the coronavirus.

Social distancing issues have led to roadblocks in the coordination of this year’s 50th anniversary rodeo from July 14-19, leading to a decision on Friday by the board of directors to cancel the rodeo for the first time since its inception in 1971.

Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo, Inc. is a non-profit organization and the event is supported by volunteers and sponsorships, but securing both this year, while assurance of financial and physical safety grew complicated.

“The pandemic is going to be so hard on individuals and businesses in our community that we rely on to support us,” said Jim Miskimins, president of Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo, Inc., “and we didn’t feel like it was fair to lean on them to support our event during these difficult financial times.”

The cancellation comes nearly three months before the scheduled rodeo and there was chatter of postponing instead, but too many uncertainties clouded the potential risk of hosting the rodeo.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Not only were there concerns of the pandemic still maintaining its grip on the country in July, but there was also uncertainty that regular attendees would feel comfortable packing into Horseman’s Sports Arena for fear of the lingering virus. It also limited face-to-face interaction with local sponsors.

“The one nice thing about the committee being 20-25 volunteers is that we’re able to not just communicate with sponsors via mail or email,” Miskimins said. “We’re able to walk into their businesses and greet them and say, ‘It’s time for us to start working together again.’ COVID-19 has made it practically impossible for us to do that the way we are accustomed to.”

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is responsible for the competitors at the Stampede Rodeo, but annual dues to the PRCA as a governing body have already been paid, but those will be applied to the 2021 rodeo instead.

Nationally, PRCA rodeos have been halted everywhere, without a rodeo being completed since mid-March. More than 60 rodeos from now until July remain on as planned, but 68 have been canceled -- including the renowned Calgary Stampede Rodeo on Thursday, which Miskimins noted -- and another 19 have been postponed, according to the PRCA’s online listings.

For the Corn Palace Stampede, conservative savings over the years have aided the blow of not holding the rodeo and Miskimins believes smart money management leading into 2021 will avoid any financial pitfalls. There is also hope that talent previously booked for this year can reschedule for next.

The committee had big plans for 2020 and was in the midst of finalizing a deal to bring in the Budweiser Clydesdale hitch for more than a week at the Davison County 4-H building before the cancellation. Rodeo clown Dennis Halstead was also set to come back to Mitchell for the third time.

Another main attraction was set to be Bobby Kerr, a former winner of the PRCA specialty act of the year award for tricks with mustangs rescued around the country. Kerr was booked nearly 18 months ago and Miskimins maintains hope he will be able to make his first trip to South Dakota next summer.

“We are a group that tries to support other important charitable entities in our community,” Miskimins said. “Traditionally we’ve helped a variety of children’s programs. … Our group has tried to support those people, while saving money for a rainy day. Due to the potential negative impacts of the pandemic, we might be putting our savings and the future of the rodeo at risk if we chose to forge ahead.”

What lies ahead may be uncertain, but Miskimins confirmed the next Corn Palace Stampede Rodeo will not take place until 2021, even if the virus has departed by the summer. He did say there may be some sort of celebration in honor of the 50th anniversary when it is safe to do so, but the official 50th incarnation of the rodeo is planned for July 2021.

“There are so many other individuals and businesses that are being severely impacted by this pandemic that our concerns pale in comparison,” Miskimins said. “We’re going to celebrate this decision a year from now and we’ll survive and be OK.”