Each year, rodeo fever spells so much fun for everyone, according to one fan.
Offering numerous events at Kay Rodgers Park, 4400 Midland Blvd., throughout May, the 81st annual Old Fort Days Rodeo will be the "perfect" time for children and adults to have "a great time" and "feel good about themselves and their city," said Ron Scamardo, rodeo chairman.
"We are tied in with Western Heritage Month this year in Fort Smith, and there will be many things for the community to enjoy," he said. "This is the time for all of us to be proud of Fort Smith. Let’s not be shy about Fort Smith. It’s time for the Old Fort Days Rodeo and Western Heritage Month, so everyone should be proud and excited."
Among the rodeo events will be the ninth annual Creative Leather & Track Riders’ Tough Enough to Wear Pink Chili Feast & Concert, which begins at 6 p.m. May 15 at the Kay Rodgers Park Expo Building, 4400 Midland Blvd., Scamardo said. The event’s performer will be The Arklahoma Travelers, with prizes, a live auction and the Child Rodeo Clown Costume also scheduled. Proceeds will benefit the Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support House; admission will be $6 for adults, $3 for children ages 6-12 and free for ages 5 and younger.
"We want to see everyone wearing pink for Tough Enough to Wear Pink," Scamardo said. "It’s a great part of the rodeo."
The Old Fort Days Super Star Vocal Contest will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at KRP’s Choctaw Casino Stage, said Heath Wright, event chairman and one of the rodeo’s musical performers. The free event is open to all soloists and will feature five winners, who will perform the National Anthem during the rodeo May 26-31, he said.
"If you know of anyone who sings great in church, at school or wherever, please get them to sign up for this," Wright said. "We love to showcase local talent, and the winners also will perform on the Choctaw Casino Stage the same night as their National Anthem performance. This is a great way to feature local singers for the community."
Wright, who will perform with his band, The Hangmen, for the rodeo’s Kick-off Concert at 8 p.m. May 25, called the rodeo an essential part of Fort Smith.
"I remember looking forward to going to the rodeo since I was a little kid," he said. "This is a big deal, and we’re hoping to see many people there."
As a young child and, later, as a teenager, Christopher Brandenburg also anticipated the rodeo each year.
"The rodeo is an important part of Fort Smith," said the Fort Smith resident. "We can’t imagine the Fort Smith community not having the rodeo every year.
"In fact, my grandparents took me to the rodeo when I was younger, and we would have a great time bonding then," Brandenburg added. "The Old Fort Days Rodeo always brings a smile to my face."
The Old Fort Days Barrel Futurity & Super Derby will be held May 17-24 at Harper Stadium in Kay Rodgers Park, while the rodeo’s opening performance is slated for 7 p.m. May 26. The latter will be part of the Wrangler National Patriot Night, which honors all veterans. Special guests will include World War II veteran Bennie Rausch, Miss Arkansas Amy Crain, singer Mo Bandy, National Finals Rodeo radio announcer Mike Mathis, professional rodeo clown and comedian Lecile Harris, bullfighters Travis Adams and Clay Collins and others, Scamardo said.
"People have asked when the Muttin’ Bustin’ event will come back, and we’re proud to say that it’s back this year (at 5:30 p.m. May 26-31)," he said. "People love to see their children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews out there riding on a sheep, so we’re presenting that again."
The rodeo also will feature nightly performances by the Old Fort Dandies and other talent, with the Tough Enough to Wear Pink portion set to start at 7:30 p.m. May 30. The latter event encourages spectators and performers to wear pink in support of breast cancer awareness; the Donald W. Reynolds Cancer Support House will receive $1 from every ticket sold.
"We hope to see everyone out there at the rodeo wearing pink," Scamardo said. "It’s an important part of the rodeo."
Young dance fans will be able to enter the Lecile Harris Dance Contest, which includes preliminary rounds May 26-30. The contest’s finals will feature five winners May 31, said Jackie Hoffarth, production chairman for the rodeo.
"Having Lecile Harris back as our funnyman is another big thing for the children who attend the rodeo," he said. "It’s good because this and the other rodeo events are a good introduction to Western heritage for children.
"One of our themes is, ‘Relive the Heritage, Restore the Pride,’" Hoffarth added. "Fort Smith is really deep in history and heritage, in regards to Western heritage. Kids today, unfortunately, don’t usually get to learn a lot about that, but they should. We hope the rodeo events help."
"We think this year’s rodeo will be something everyone won’t want to miss," he said. "We want everyone to spread the word about this rodeo and about Fort Smith. It’s going to be a great month."