When the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (NFR) starts in the Thomas & Mack Center tonight, it is the beginning 10 nights of the best competition rodeo has to offer and the culmination of a year’s worth of planning and preparation.
It is a well-orchestrated plan that turns the building from a basketball court to a rodeo arena. However, that is a small part of what actually goes on in preparation and the multitude of things that happen behind the scenes in order to have a seamless production are astounding.
It takes a lot of cooperation between the PRCA, WPRA, the NFR committee and Las Vegas Events. There are so many people working behind the scenes to make this event the best in the world that it is mind boggling.
The planning started soon after last year’s 10th performance. The actual preparation of the facilities began on Nov. 9th when they started turning the University of Nevada – Las Vegas Intramural Fields into places to house the world’s best animal athletes. It started with stalls for the timed-event horses and then they built pens for all of the bucking stock and the timed-event cattle.
Less than a week ago, they were playing basketball in the Thomas and Mack. They took the floor out after Saturday night’s game and started moving the dirt in on Sunday, Nov. 29th. Along with the dirt, the bucking chutes, timed-event chute, roping box and arena were set up. They also have a lot of configuration to do in the building, setting up the Justin Sportsmedicine Room, the media room, offices, hospitality for special guests, and the list goes on.
The construction and maintenance crew has 12 people putting the arena together and managing it daily. Along with setting up, they maintain the dirt, hang the banners, and make sure everything is clean and pretty after each performance. They also assure that everything is working properly for the next one.
In today’s society making sure everyone is safe is a huge task. The NFR security detail has 39 people in the building making sure that people are where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there. There are another 14 bodies working outside the building keeping a watchful eye on the animals and everyone around them. Eleven more people are assigned the task of caring for these valuable assets.
Eight men work diligently on the rough stock end of the arena, loading animals, letting contestants know when to settle down on the back of a bucking animal, opening chute gates, and doing menial tasks like running around picking up flank straps to keep the arena looking pretty. Nine more are at the timed-event end, loading cattle, and watching for the nod of the head from the contestant.
The opening ceremonies here are like none other, highlighted for fans by seeing their favorite contestants ride in horseback behind their state flag. Of course, not all of the contestants bring horses, so they are provided for saddle bronc riders and bull riders. Stock contractors bring an additional 31 horses for the grand entry. There are 24 more used to carry flags and 11 people are on the crew to care for all of them. Since bareback riding is the first event, those contestants get to watch the grand entry from behind the bucking chutes while they are getting ready.
With $10 million in prize money up for grabs, the judges and officials have a huge responsibility. The judging system here involves 14 officials who will work together to score rides, set the barrier, check on cattle, work with the secretary and do everything in their power to keep the competition fair. Three timers will use their very important thumbs to stop the watches in the steer wrestling, team roping and tie-down roping, and start the eight-second clock in riding events. They also use stop watches for back up times in barrel racing and watch that the electric eyes are working properly.
Those three women and all of the officials work with the rodeo secretary’s office where another three women keep track of every element related to the competition and are responsible for the distribution of the prize money.
Along with all of these people, the Justin Sportsmedicine Team will have athletic trainers, doctors and physical therapists looking out for the health and welfare of the contestants and everyone involved. They work with local medical personnel and in the case of a traumatic injury, EMT’s and hospitals.
Of course the health and welfare of the animals is always a high priority. Four veterinarians from Desert Pines Equine Medical and Surgical Center will be on hand to see to any of the animals’ needs.
Outside of the competition, there are people involved with the television production, facilitating media requests and disseminating information. Scoreboard personnel work with the judges, secretaries and timers along with instant replay crew to keep fans up to speed. The PRCA staff has 42 members on site that do everything from managing the press room to hosting chute tours for dignitaries and coordinating sponsors.
All of these people work diligently to put on the best rodeo possible for the contestants and spectators. It takes an army of to make it all happen. The general in charge of this army is Shawn Davis. He has an additional four people to assist with all of the organizing, meetings and follow-up reports.
Perhaps the three most overlooked people involved are the three ladies that sit in the credential office that have the monstrous task of getting everybody the right passes, making sure that forms are filled out and acting as go-betweens when there is a question. They do it with grace and dignity and I for one am very grateful for my credential.
I’m so excited for the rodeo to start tonight. The late Clem McSpadden used to say that the cream will always rise to the top. We have all of the cream here at the NFR, in and out of the arena. It’s going to be good!