No Manawa rodeo this year
Organizers cite COVID-19 concerns
By Greg Seubert
The Mid-Wisconsin Rodeo is not horsing around with COVID-19.
Manawa has hosted the rodeo annually since 1959, but the coronavirus outbreak has caused organizers to scrap plans for this year’s event, which had been scheduled for July 2-4.
The rodeo parade, which would have been held Saturday, July 4, has also been canceled.
“This is a terrible thing to have to cancel this,” rodeo secretary Peter Ziebell said. “To be honest, (the rodeo) is just what the community needs. It would restore normalcy.”
The Mid-Western Rodeo is a fundraiser for the Manawa Lions Club, which distributes proceeds from the event to local organizations.
“Giving the money away is important to us, that’s what we do,” Ziebell said. “All these organizations depend on us. We have a responsibility to the Lions Club and the community. I feel so bad because how many people use this for their fundraiser? Then again, our workers aren’t comfortable. The average age of a volunteer at the rodeo is over 60. They’re not comfortable with it, so what are you going to do, say we’re going to steam ahead anyway?”
Lions Club supports decision
The Lions Club supported the rodeo executive committee’s recent decision to cancel this year’s event.
“We talked about if it’s the right decision,” Ziebell said. “One guy said, ‘It’s not the right decision, it’s the only decision.’ That made a lot of sense. Most people agreed to cancel, but grudgingly. They wanted to go forward with the rodeo, but I think the odds are stacked against us and I don’t think we’d fare very well.
“We wanted to do it,” he said. “I did. I hate to be the guy that blows the 61st anniversary of the rodeo, but I’d also hate to be the guy who gambled everything and not have another rodeo again.”
Organizers originally planned to decide June 1, but ended up making the call two weeks early.
“We were going to wait until June 1, but we just can’t,” Ziebell said. “We have vendors calling and saying, ‘What’s going on?’ We had to make a decision. The executive committee voted on it and we brought it to the Lions Club to get their input.”
COVID-19 has taken a toll on other rodeos in Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Rodeos in Glenwood City, Stanley, Merrill and Spooner have been canceled, as well as events in Iron River, Carney and Marquette, Michigan.
“We’re not the first one,” Ziebell said. “It’s a hard event to pull off with social distancing. How can you fill the bleachers if they have to be 6 feet apart? If you cut your crowd by 4,000 people in the stands to 800 or 900, you’re going to lose your shirt. It just isn’t feasible.”
Organizers plan on making improvements to the rodeo grounds, located off of County Trunk B on Manawa’s west side.
“We have all summer to do it,” Ziebell said. “We always strive to improve, even if it’s little things. As soon as you start sitting back and go, ‘Oh, it’ll happen,’ that’s when things start to deteriorate and we can’t let that happen. We have a group of people that really pay attention to the details and we try to improve something every year, whether it’s how we handle food lines and where people are going to stand.
“We own our rodeo grounds and that is huge,” he said. “We don’t have to put up with a fair board saying, ‘No, you can’t do this or no, you can’t do that.’ We own everything and that puts us in a really good spot. We don’t have any misconceptions of being Cheyenne Frontier Days or one of those monster rodeos. That’s not our goal. Our goal is to be the best rodeo in the Great Lakes Circuit. That’s what we want to be.
“We got very involved in our rodeo in the early ‘90s because it was getting pretty lame,” he said. “We got involved in every aspect, from who we hired as a stock contractor, announcer or specialty act. We don’t just call somebody and say, ‘Hey, bring the rodeo to town.’”
Next year’s rodeo is set for July 1-3, with the parade to be held July 3.
“We plan on going all-out to get people back in the stands and have as much fun as we can,” Ziebell said. “It’s all about the people in the grandstands. We can talk about the contestants and the announcers all we want, but it’s quality entertainment. We want people to come, enjoy themselves and have a great time.
“We’ll prevail, I have no doubt about that,” he said. “We hope to be bigger and better than ever.”