Gooding Pro Rodeo Serves Up the Best Recipe
By Brett Marshall
If one wants to think of a rodeo in terms of a restaurant and its menu items, then the Gooding Pro Rodeo has mixed up all the best ingredients to provide area Idaho fans with a smorgasbord of top-of-the-line food, or in this case rodeo entertainment.
Whether it’s the announcer, the music, the clown, professional cowboys, or the stock contractors, there is unanimous agreement that the Gooding Pro Rodeo, behind the 20-plus year vision of Manager Don Gill, has mixed all the ingredients into something special.
That special event will be on display once again August 14-17, 2019, when the 94th edition of the Gooding Pro Rodeo is conducted at the county fairgrounds arena, with the rodeo’s four-night run capping a week-long celebration of the Gooding County Fair.
It’s home cooking, it’s World Champion cowboys and women’s barrel racers, it’s elite announcing, award-winning music directing, and some of the top stock contractors in the country.
Then, there are the fans. Yes, these are the folks that make this rodeo special. At least that’s what the visiting rodeo personnel and cowboys have to say.
Steve Kenyon, who resides in Gainesville, Texas, has been announcing the rodeo every year since 2002, the year the event returned to being a PRCA-sanctioned event after more than 70 years as an amateur rodeo.
Matt Shiozawa, who in 2018 was the No. 5-ranked Tie-Down Roper in the PRCA, has been competing at Gooding since he was a high schooler in Chubbuck, Idaho, about a 2.5 hour drive east of Gooding.
Justin Rumford, who calls Ponca City, Okla., home now (Abbyville, Kansas is truly home), is a seven-time Clown of the Year Award winner in the PRCA and just attended his second Gooding Rodeo in 2018.
Kaycee Feild is a four-time PRCA World Champion bareback rider (2011-12-13-14) from Genola, Utah, who has competed in many of the Gooding Rodeo events. He currently is ranked No. 1 in the PRCA World Rankings.
T.J. Korkow is a third-generation family member who works with his father, Jim, to produce some of the top saddle bronc and bareback horses in the business, and is one of three stock contractors for the 2019 event – the others being Summit Pro Rodeo of Centennial, Wyo., and Northcott/Macza of High River, Alberta, Canada.
“To sum it all up with the small per capita population base, the Gooding Pro Rodeo is the ‘Little Engine that Could,’ and it’s just something very special,” Shiozawa said. “It’s like a family reunion for many people and it’s just a celebration of the entire community and county.”
Shiozawa had high praise for Gill’s leadership, having seen the rodeo grow from an amateur event to a small pro rodeo to the event known today with thousands of dollars in added money. In 2018, nearly $88,000 in prize money was distributed.
This comes from a community of 3,500 and a county population of approximately 15,000 persons.
“Gooding is just one of my favorite places in the world,” said Rumford, whose schedule has precluded him from attending in 2019. “It’s almost like going home. It’s a party where everybody comes together and the crowds are great.”
As a clown, Rumford said the crowd and its involvement makes his job that much easier.
“Last year, I asked for somebody to toss me out a hot dog, and it wasn’t long before I saw a foil-wrap flying right out there on the arena grounds. And it was a hot dog!”
Rumford had a special memory of the “Beer Worthy” group, which is seated close to the timed events and also the bucking chutes.
“They really get into it and they’re invested in the fun,” Rumford said.
T.J. Korkow, who along with his father Jim has carried on the tradition of Korkow Rodeos bucking stock for nearly six decades, said there wasn’t any place like Gooding that they travel to during the long rodeo season.
“The atmosphere, the crowd is so full, standing room only,” Korkow said of the environment created at Gooding. “With the Beer Worthy crowd, there’s all kinds of energy.”
Kenyon, too, has many fond memories of the Gooding Rodeo, and has watched it grow from its infant years as a PRCA event to where it is now one of the PRCA’s 60 Tour rodeos.
“The first thing I think of is that it is a community celebration,” Kenyon said. “They put the entire population of the town and the county into that arena over the run of the rodeo. The audience comes wanting to have a good time.”
Feild, who has been competing at Gooding for nearly a decade, said the rodeo just has a different feel to it than most any other rodeo in which he competes.
“There’s just a lot of energy that you don’t see in a lot of places,” said Feild, who sat atop the bareback PRCA World Rankings at the end of June. “You usually don’t see that energy except for Houston, Cheyenne, Vegas, places that are big.”
Feild said he has known many of the personnel that work at the Gooding Rodeo for a number of years and that makes his brief visit even more enjoyable.
“It’s a welcoming crowd, people are down to earth and they’re just good people,” Feild said. “The personnel are knowledgeable and in every aspect they do a great job of running the event. It’s its own place.”
With a seating capacity of 3,200, the historic grounds, which were once the location of the Cavalry and Parade Grounds for Troop A 116th Cavalry, U.S. Army, built around 1925, is sold out every night.
This year, a new announcer’s stand has been constructed, the VIP area seating has been upgraded and the Beer Worthy section has received a facelift with new paint. Along the arena wall, Gill has re-painted a tooled leather belt on the fence that is unlike any other arena design.
“It looks like a tooled leather belt,” said Gill of the 700-foot artwork around the arena’s perimeter. “It was my daughter’s idea. It took some time to get it finished, but I guess there’s nothing like it anywhere else so that’s a good thing.”
Kenyon said that Gill and his Committee never sit still and rest on their laurels. In 2018, the Gooding Pro Rodeo Committee was the recipient of the Remuda Award, given annually to the stock contracting firm and rodeo committee that provide the best, most consistent pen of bucking horses, creating the best opportunities for contestants to score well. Korkow Rodeos won the award in 2017.
“I think the thing that is just so impressive is that Don and his Committee are always thinking and looking forward,” Kenyon said. “They’ve continued to make improvements every year. They’re just a group of first-class, forward-thinking people.”
Making Kenyon’s job go smoother is fellow Texan Jill Franzen Loden of Weatherford, Texas, who was named the 2018 PRCA Music Director of the Year and has handled the duties in Gooding for more than a decade. Jill’s Sound, her company, gets recognized by the frenzied crowd, too, with signs calling her “Sound Chic.”
“She’s lighting it up every night,” Kenyon said of Loden’s music talent. “There’s just an amazing amount of energy, the selection of songs, what she creates and the timing all just make things go perfectly. She has the talent to get the exact right song, the right sound and the timing to make it all work.”
Rumford said the atmosphere at Gooding reminded him of a college football game with tailgating and post-game celebrations.
“I’d show up there whether or not I was invited,” Rumford said of the special feeling he has for Gooding. “Things happen there that don’t happen anywhere else. We had a golf tournament and T.J. (Korkow) ripped off my shirt and I had to finish the round shirtless. Some other places might have said something, but there, everybody thought it was funny and enjoyed the show.”
As with others, Rumford had high praise for Gill and his efforts to upgrade Gooding every year.
“He’s got great stock contractors coming in,” Rumford said. “They won the Remuda Award. They’ve got the sound person of the year (Loden). They’ve got good people across every area of the rodeo and you just want to be part of it. They’ve got all the ingredients. Gooding is like a Coors beer – it’s an original.”
Gill said he is fortunate in that he has a great group of Committee members, most of whom have been contestants in the past. Included in that group is Sandy Gwatney, who was named PRCA Rodeo Secretary of the Year in both 2016 and 2018. Her husband, John, also helps out and has been a fixture at many of the top pro rodeos for years, including the NFR.
“I think I could not show up for the rodeo and things would run smoothly,” said Gill with a nod to the effectiveness of his committee. “They are knowledgeable about all aspects of the rodeo. I’m just a small part of a big wheel.”
Korkow said that Gill has been the key ingredient to making Gooding as special as it is today.
“Don, he don’t like failure and he gets what he pays for, and he gets the best that he can,” Korkow said of Gill. Jill (Loden), she’s as good as there is in the music business for rodeo. Steve (announcer Kenyon) does a great job with the crowd. You just don’t get the kind of interaction between crowd and cowboys and personnel as you see at Gooding.”
Shiozawa said all the different components of the rodeo sets it apart from others.
“There are bigger rodeos, with bigger purses, but I don’t know another rodeo where everyone has as much fun,” Shiozawa said. “The crowd is rowdy, they know their rodeo stuff. After the rodeo, they’re gonna go to the dance. There’s great live music. What else would you want?”
If anything, Shiozawa said the success of Gooding Rodeo is a reflection of Gill.
“He wouldn’t want me to say this, but Don’s intentions are all good,” Shiozawa said. “He puts everything back into the event. He’s hustled to get more sponsors and I think all of us want to see him be successful.”
Korkow said that there were so many little items that exist that it’s hard not to appreciate what Gill and his Committee have put together.
“When the horses are standing out behind the chutes, they’re in grass and not in a dirt or gravel area like many places,” Korkow said. “With three contractors, we can bring in the cream of our crop and our horses only have to go one time in the three nights. They’re just more fresh.”
That aspect, Korkow said, made for a more equal competition for the cowboys.
“You know at Gooding that if you do your job on the horse, you’ve got a chance to not only make some money, but you’ve got a good chance to win, and that’s not the case at all rodeos,” Korkow said. “You’ve got the best riders, you’ve got the best animals. Not much more you could ask.”
Feild said the crowd was participatory to the extent that it took on its own personality with the interaction between the fans and the contestants.
“The crowd’s awesome especially down on the rowdy end of the stands,” Feild said in reference to the Beer Worthy section. “If you have a good ride, or even get bucked off of a good ride, they’ll hand you a (plastic cup) beer, take a swig of it and hand it right back. I’ve had a couple of those. That doesn’t happen anywhere else.”
Korkow said that there were so many different aspects to Gooding that just made it a special trip each year.
“It’s a huge party atmosphere, so if you don’t like a wild and crazy place to be, don’t come to Gooding,” Korkow said. “The Beer Garden is close to the arena and they’ve got the big dance (Saturday night). There’s people with signs, music is incredible and the crowds even cheer on the sound lady. We camp right next to the arena, walk about 25 steps, and we’re right there.”
Kenyon also gave a special recognition to the fans who pack the arena every night for four nights, including one night where the Slack portion of the competition comes after the performance.
“They stay around and watch the Slack, and it’s something you just don’t see at other rodeos,” Kenyon said. “It you’re a Beer Worthy contestant, you want to go over and just chug one with the group. There are a lot of moving parts, and I’m just a small part of a big wheel. It’s the most unique rodeo I’ve seen. The place is electric. Last year, and I hate to admit this, but I had a tear in my eye when it was over, and I just feel that way every year.
“It’s County Fair Week. How much more Norman Rockwell can you get?”
Brett Marshall is a retired sports writer in Garden City, Kansas. He covered the Beef Empire Days PRCA Rodeo for more than a decade in Garden City. In 2016, he was the recipient of the PRCA Excellence in Journalism Print Award.