With the right words ready, rodeo set to ride through Fourth
Steamboat Springs — Few consider events such as the Super Bowl or the World Series — or even the average NFL or MLB game, for that matter — to be lacking in patriotism.
Rodeo, however, is a bit different, John Shipley explained Thursday, looking ahead to a long weekend of roping and riding in Steamboat Springs. The national anthem never seems like quite enough at the start of an event, and he never hesitates to build the red, white and blue fervor just a little more.
Sometimes, that means a few unscripted lines from Shipley, announcer at the weekly summer Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series, as the stars and stripes are ridden into the stadium, on horseback, of course.
“You know, talking about what the flag means,” Shipley said, starting into an impromptu speech. “For 200-some years, people have been going places they really didn’t want to go, so people can enjoy the freedom we do.”
The lines can be off-the-cuff, because there’s no set opening for the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo Series, set to ride in two forms and through four days starting Friday.
Friday and Saturday’s performances will mirror those from the nine other weekends of pro rodeo that are a staple of Steamboat Springs’ summers. They’ll include a pre-rodeo barbecue, and the action will start at 7:30 p.m.
“Town will be full,” rodeo board member Brent Romick said, “and we’ll provide our share of fireworks.”
Sunday’s rodeo will be drastically different, a ranch rodeo that actually differs a great deal from the standard events. It’s meant to test more real ranch skills. Organizers this summer switched the event to a different sanctioning body, Western States Ranch Rodeo Association, which will allow more locals to participate.
The highlight of Sunday’s event may end up being the three rounds of ranch rodeo saddle bronc riding, which follows many of the basic rules of traditional rodeo saddle bronc events, with a few added in, such as the need to use a regular working saddle and the ability of a rider to use both hands on the saddle horn.
“It can get pretty western,” Shipley said.
Monday, it’s back to the traditional events for what’s typically the largest rodeo crowd of the season. The event provides good viewing for the Fourth of July fireworks show, and it starts an hour early, at 6:30 p.m., to allow time to finish before the show.
Gave me goosebumps
Sometimes, Shipley doesn’t take the chance with his own words and leans on others, primarily two cowboy poets.
A few weeks per year, he turns to Baxter Black’s stirring cowboy tribute, “The Flag.”
“History will show this flag stood a friend
“To the hungry, the homeless and lost
“That a mixture of men as common as clay
“Valued one thing beyond cost.”
Other times, it’s the words of Clem McSpadden, an Oklahoma congressman and rodeo broadcasting icon.
“If our flag could talk, here’s what she would say,” McSpadden wrote.
“I’m a wheat field in Kansas and a cotton field down South.
“I’m the Gold Gate Bridge and a wobbly legged calf getting his first bit of nourishment from his Mama in the rangeland of the west.
“I’m old Freckles Brown riding a bull that had never been ridden at the National Finals Rodeo, and the crack of a bat at a World Series game.”
That’s the one that got Shipley first, read by McSpadden at a National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City.
“He’d stand out there in the spotlight before every performance,” Shipley said. “I never thought about announcing back then, but it gave me goosebumps.”
The Fourth of July weekend is a massive undertaking for the Steamboat rodeo crew, and an important one. Only 14 percent of the rodeo’s annual performances, it can account for 35 or 40 percent of the series’ attendance and income.
It’s a little something extra, too.
“A lot goes into it, but when you finally get to that Fourth of July performance, that’s as goosebumpy as it’s likely to get every year,” Shipley said.
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