Nebraska will have its high school finals rodeo, although at a new location |

Nebraska will have its high school finals rodeo, although at a new location

Mataya Eklund finished the 2018-2019 rodeo season as Nebraska state breakaway champion. This year’s state finals will be held in Burwell instead of Hastings, due to the COVID-19 panic. Photo by Jill Saults.

The Nebraska High School Finals Rodeo has a change of venue, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The state finals has been held in Hastings at the Adams Co. Fairgrounds for nearly twenty years, but due to the virus and Adams County’s hotspot status, the fairgrounds released the high school association from its contract, saying they were not able to host the event.

So Mark Jensen, a director on the state association, pitched the idea to his hometown of Burwell. With a large rodeo arena, facility and plenty of space at the Garfield County Fairgrounds and the PRCA sanctioned Nebraska’s Big Rodeo, Burwell was happy to accommodate them.

The high school finals will be held June 17-20, as previously planned.

At one point, the association wasn’t even sure they would be allowed to hold a state finals. When asked during one of his daily press conferences if youth rodeo could proceed, Governor Pete Ricketts had said no. But on May 21, he changed his tune and said non-contact and low contact sports, including golf, tennis, volleyball and rodeo, could take place.

The governor also increased the number of people who could gather, from ten to 25, with venues being allowed to host up to 25 percent of their occupancy as long as they social distance, with a maximum crowd size of 3,000 people.

The stands at Nebraska’s Big Rodeo arena seat 12,000 people, so spectators will be allowed, Jensen said. And with the fairgrounds consisting of nearly 120 acres, there will be plenty of room to spread out trailers and horses.

The association has been working with the Loup Basin Public Health Department in Burwell, with guidelines in place for the event. Jason Mathis, president of the association, hopes that by mid-June, when the rodeo takes place, more restrictions will be lifted, making for fewer guidelines.

The state finals will be a welcome finale to a spring rodeo season that’s been nearly nonexistent.

With thirteen regular season rodeos on the schedule, only two will be held, both in Harrison this weekend. Crawford had planned on hosting a rodeo May 31, but it was canceled on Wednesday, due to direct health measures from its health department.

Not knowing what will happen has been frustrating, said Eric Ravenscroft, vice-president of the association. “It’s a waiting game, to see what we can and can’t do. At one time, we thought we wouldn’t have any spring rodeos. Then a week later, the governor opened them up.”

Even though they’re unsure of what the final health measure guidelines will look like, Mathis and Ravenscroft both said they would be enforced at state finals. “Take responsibility for yourself and do the right thing,” Ravenscroft said. “One thing I’ve always been impressed by, with high school rodeo kids from any state, is that if you tell a group of kids how it should be done and what’s expected of them, they’ll do it. And that’s one thing we don’t want to tarnish, the high quality that high school rodeo kids are.”

Mathis doesn’t want to jeopardize the state finals by people not following guidelines. “If you’re fighting that hard to have the state finals, you probably should follow the guidelines. I’d hate to have somebody shut it down halfway through because people aren’t being very smart about it.”

Mathis said kids are ready to rodeo, and parents are ready to take their kids to a rodeo.

“It feels good (to know there will be a state finals). People are anxious to get out and about and have that opportunity. I know a lot of kids are chomping at the bit to go to one.”

He’s hoping restrictions aren’t too oppressive. “We’re hoping they lift restrictions enough so that we don’t have to have too much of a hassle and people can enjoy it.

“But I think people will enjoy it, either way.”

More information about the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association can be found online at

As of press time, the National High School Finals, to be held in Lincoln July 19-25, are still planned.

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