Delayed out of chutes, SDRA says season still a go

Typical season opener in Wessington Springs is called off

A competitor launches out of chute, while competing in the saddle bronc competition during the 17th annual Wessington Springs Foothills Rodeo last year at the Jerauld County 4-H grounds in Wessington Springs. (Matt Gade / Republic)

WESSINGTON SPRINGS — Typically considered a kick-off to summer, Memorial Day weekend is usually the start to the South Dakota Rodeo Association season.

But the traditional SDRA season opener won't take place, as the Wessington Springs Foothills Rodeo committee has decided to cancel this year's event due to COVID-19.

“Health, of course, is probably the biggest factor,” Wessington Springs Foothills Rodeo committee president Owen Fagerhaug said. “Something that was discussed was we're never going to know if we did too much, but we're for sure going to know if we didn't do enough.”

While there is no stay-at-home order in place, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has requested the state's residents follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines limiting group sizes to 10 or less while social distancing 6 feet apart through May 31.

This year's rodeo was slated to be the 18th edition of the event, and while Wessington Springs is off the slate for 2020, SDRA president Dave Marone, of Pukwana, said it’s the only cancellation this season so far.


“Everybody I have talked to has said they're going to have a rodeo,” Marone said. “Unless the governor or someone comes out and tells us, 'No, we can't have a rodeo,' they're gonna have rodeos. That's what they've been telling me and I'm leaving that up to the committees. They know more what their community needs more than we do.”

Being the first rodeo of the season, Fagerhaug said the committee felt they needed to make a decision sooner rather than later about the status of their rodeo to be fair to their participants, fans, sponsors and the workers.

“We consulted with the different associations that we run under — the SDRA, the (Northwest Ranch Cowboy Association) and Minnesota rodeo — and a lot of those are still up in the air to not knowing how the seasons going to transpire,” Fagerhaug said. “We didn't feel it was fair to the sponsors to hold an event, if we weren't going to get the spectators to recognize those sponsors. I don't know how contestants are going to feel about competing yet and in the environment we're in. So it was just kind of unfortunate that we had to land there, but we really felt there was no other way forward at this point.”

With the cancellation of the Wessington Springs rodeo, the next scheduled SDRA event is set for Flandreau on June 5 and 6, followed by the Britton Buckhorn Rodeo on June 26. The bulk of SDRA rodeos take place between late June and mid-August, with the SDRA Finals scheduled for Oct. 2-4 in Sioux Falls.

Marone is optimistic that there will be a rodeo season this summer, but said he wouldn’t be surprised if other committees decided to cancel their events this year. He said the safety and the health of everyone involved remains a primary focus for the SDRA, and Marone believes the decisions about this year's rodeos is better left up to the committees and individuals who would decide they wish to attend or compete.

“We're letting them decide whether or not they want to have a rodeo and how they want to do their seating and contestant areas and things like that,” said Marone, who competes in rodeos along with his wife and kids. “We're not gonna crawl under a bed and hide until we think it's safe, either.”

While this year’s rodeo has been canceled in Wessington Springs, the community's annual Bull Bash is still currently scheduled for Sept. 12.


Bryce Dibbern, of Interior, wrestles a steer down to the ground in the steer wrestling competition during the 17th annual Wessington Springs Foothills Rodeo last year at the Jerauld County 4-H grounds in Wessington Springs. (Matt Gade / Republic)

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