In its almost 90-year history, the Sheridan WY0 Rodeo has had its share of problems. One of the worst ones occurred in 1988.
In that year the unthinkable happened — the rodeo was canceled. It turned out to be temporary and was all because of the grandstand at the Sheridan County Fairgrounds.
The flap started in March when the Fair Board requested that the grandstand, which was built by the Sheridan WYO Rodeo in 1936, be inspected by the state fire marshal. It is still a subject of conjecture as to why the Fair Board waited until just four months before the next scheduled rodeo. At this point, the rodeo board had already signed contracts worth $54,000.
Everything hinged on the decision of the fire marshal. Alas, he strongly condemned the grandstand. After listing what were deemed to be several serious deficiencies the fire marshal report said that “…this facility creates a severe LIFE SAFETY HAZARD…” The grandstand was doomed!
Faced with this dire appraisal, the rodeo board considered its options but could find no alternative but to announce the cancellation of the rodeo. There was simply no money available to execute temporary repairs to make the grandstand safe. It was a dire situation.
Fortunately, a savior appeared. At the last minute the Sheridan County Board of County Commissioners found $46,000 in contingency funds which enabled the Fair Board to beef up the structure, improve exits and develop an inspection plan to use in monitoring the safety status of the grandstand. This was a temporary measure that was supposed to last for only one year. So, as it had done so many times in the past, the Sheridan WYO Rodeo dodged a bullet and the show went on.
As it turned out, the temporarily repaired grandstand would be used until a new grandstand and arena were put into use in 1992.
In the interim period, the old wooden grandstand was used, smoking was prohibited and seating was limited to prevent overcrowding. Bleachers were placed around the arena to accommodate the crowds.
The new grandstand and arena were scheduled for completion in 1991, but as the date for the rodeo neared, no one knew if the new facilities would be ready on time. Faced with this uncertainty, the rodeo board boldly decided to use the old wooden grandstand just one more time after it was inspected yet once again and arrangements were made for stand-by fire protection.
Two days after the rodeo, the rodeo board was lauded by an editorial in the Sheridan Press for its brave action. The article read:
“Officials shouldered heavy burden so that the show could go on.”
In 1992, the new grandstand and arena were put into use and are in use today. The Sheridan WYO Rodeo did not pay for the new facility as they had in the past. The county did.
At the time, the subject was very emotional. Many citizens were adamant that there was nothing wrong with the old grandstand and the whole unfortunate exercise was just a ploy by the Fair Board to get a new one.
Whether or not that assertion was true is a matter of opinion. But there were strong opinions. Most agreed that the grandstand would have had to been replaced eventually but that the situation could have been handled better. Many thought that the design could have certainly been improved upon.
Twenty-eight years later there are still some rodeo fans who were around at the time who get rather emotional if you even mention the great grandstand flap. It’s all part of the rich history of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo.
Tom Ringley is an emeritus member of the Sheridan WYO Rodeo Board.