National High School Rodeo moved to Oklahoma’s Lazy E Arena

NebraskaÕs Madison Mills competes in the barrel racing at the 2019 National High School Finals, held in Rock Springs. This yearÕs Nationals will be at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Okla.

After an unexpected departure from Lincoln, Neb. and the Lancaster Event Center Fairgrounds, the National High School Finals has found a temporary home for 2020.

The 2020 Nationals will be held at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Okla.

Several locations were speculated to be its home for the year, including Rock Springs, Wyo., and Gillette, Wyo.’s Cam-Plex, but on June 5, the National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) made it official: the Lazy E.

It came down to health measures, said Gary Hawkes, digital media and communications coordinator for the NHSRA. “The Lazy E was more open with health restrictions,” he said. “Wyoming still has restrictions, where the Lazy E has been hosting events with the local health department’s recommendations, guidelines and practices.”

Since the COVID-19 pandemic started, the Lazy E Arena has hosted several weekends of PBR (with no fans), the Chris Neal’s Future Stars Calf Roping, and barrel races.

Nationals will also change its dates by one day, running July 17-23. It follows the National Little Britches Rodeo Association Finals, which take place July 6-12.

Back in Lincoln, Amy Dickerson, managing director for the Lancaster Event Center Fairgrounds, hated to see it leave her venue, but she’s ready for it when it comes next year.

The event center had added 1,075 campground hook ups, for a total of 1,275 hookups at the facility, and making it the tenth largest event center campground in the nation (a campground with facilities for meetings.) The event center is courting RV groups as well, who look for meeting places in addition to hook-ups.

The Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department made the decision to not allow Nationals to be held in Lincoln, Dickerson said. “They looked at it, and said, from the sheer size of it, despite our best efforts at health guidelines, we couldn’t modify the event without potentially overwhelming healthcare resources, given the rate of COVID-19 infections in our area.

“The team is heartbroken,” she said. “We’ve been working on this since 2016.” The Event Center Fairgrounds has a two year contract, so Nationals will be in Lincoln in 2021 with a return rotation in 2026 and 2027. “We’ll be ready for them. We’ll make sure they have a great experience next year.”

The Lazy E has campsites, Hawkes said, and will allow dry camping (no water, no sewer). Camping off-site at other venues will be available as well.

Hawkes said the association estimates a total of 6,750 people come to Nationals, including the 1,500 qualifiers. Forty-three states are represented. Contestants usually come from Canada, Mexico and Australia but that is unlikely this year, due to the virus closing borders.

Hawkes stressed that whatever location the association chose, the health and wellbeing of the high school athletes was top of mind.

“We just wanted to make the best decision with the kids in mind,” Hawkes said. “We’re thankful for every venue that reached out to us, that was giving the kids the opportunity. They had the same thing in mind: the kids first, what was the best option for the kids.

“We wanted to give them the chance to rodeo.”