By Kellen M. Quigley
For 30 years, the rodeo has come to town on Sommerville Valley Road just south of the village of Ellicottville, and for its 31st year it’s getting even bigger and better.
The Ellicottville Championship Rodeo kicked off on the Fourth of July with four shows scheduled from July 4 to 7. Fireworks are scheduled for the three evening shows beginning at 7 p.m. July 4 to 6. A fourth afternoon show is scheduled for 2 p.m. July 7.
“Each day there are nine different events,” said owner John Kent. “The bronc riding and the bull riding are the two hot ones.”
Just as summer arrives each June and everyone prepares for the Independence Day holiday, Kent anticipates opening up his property for thousands to visit the rodeo, which is one of the largest International Professional Rodeo Association- (IPRA) and American Professional Rodeo Association (APRA)-sanctioned rodeos in the northeast.
“We got over 500 cowboys who entered our rodeo on Wednesday (June 26),” he said. “We stay right around 475, 500, 525… You’ve got newcomers coming in all the time, and you have old boys like me who are retired.”
Over the past 30 years, Kent said the rodeo has continued to grow. Since its early days, they’ve updated and added permanent structures and buildings and are now looking for additional seating.
“We put more seating in, and we’re prepared to put more seating down during the show if needed,” Kent says. Currently, the setup has space for about 2,800 people, but additional seats could be added to accommodate more than 3,000 spectators.
Kent said preparations for the rodeo — which nearly always takes place near the first weekend in July — often begins in March, when they purchase everything from merchandise to advertisements and get sponsorships together.
As Kent and his crew set up the property last week, the bleachers and stands on the hillside sat quiet, overlooking what resembled a lawn more than a rodeo arena. But in the week leading up to the rodeo, the arena would be installed and the small field would be filled with sand for the hundreds of cowboys that’ll show up.
“When you come pulling in my driveway, you see a nice, clean place. We specialize in that and I want it to stay that way,” Kent said. “I keep improving and keep things painted up nice.”
New to the rodeo this year will be Jerry Todd, a long-time announcer who is an old friend of the Ellicottville Championship Rodeo from its earliest days.
“The rodeo announcer is on horseback, so that might be good watching, seeing him get chased around the arena by a bucking horse or a bull,” Kent said.
As part of the rodeo tradition, the Ellicottville Championship Rodeo will feature Dusty the Clown as well, a friend of both the new announcer and Kent for many years. There’s also the kid’s stick horse rodeo for children 10 and under.
Gates open two hours before the show begins to allow guests time to come and enjoy the food as well as craft vendors set up near the arena.
Looking to the rodeo’s 32nd year and beyond, Kent said he doesn’t see any signs of stopping yet.
“It’s a business that ain’t going to quit. People love the rodeo and love the action here,” he said. “I just try to make it right for everybody that comes here so they have a pleasant time.”
Adult tickets for those ages 13 and up are $20 at the gate. Tickets for children 6 to 12 are $12 each and children 5 and younger are admitted free.
For more information on the Ellicottville Championship Rodeo, visit ellicottvillerodeo.com.