Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Rodeo break for public school kids no longer necessary

Some traditions die hard. One Tucson tradition that isn’t in much danger of dying is the public schools rodeo break in which more than 120,000 metropolitan public school children get out of school for the third Thursday and Friday of February.

But considering the national emphasis on education and the mania for keeping kids in school, perhaps Tucson’s rodeo break tradition is one that has run its course.

In days gone by, the rodeo break was a necessity because nearly every kid in town was in or at the rodeo parade, which historically opened the rodeo festivities the Thursday before the big rodeo weekend.

The Tucson rodeo from the late 1920s through the 1960s was THE event in Tucson; the whole year revolved around the parade and rodeo.

The entire town practically shut down for the parade. Not anymore.

Hardly anyone goes to the parade or rodeo these days, let alone school kids, when compared to the metro area’s population of more than 1 million.

Parade officials are infamous for grossly exaggerating parade attendance but in 2005 Tucson Citizen staffers used methods developed by the Washington Post for estimating crowd sizes at the National Mall (dividing parade route length by 24 inches (average human body width) and multiplying by crowd depth) and determined that at most there could only have been 55,000 people watching the parade, and even that was likely an overstatement. A more realistic figure was closer to 30,000 (crowd depth for nearly half the route was no greater than 1). Parade officials said 180,000 watched the parade that year.

Over the past few years, rodeo attendance on Thursday and Friday has averaged about 15,000 total for both days.

Using the parade and rodeo attendance figures, and roughly estimating that one adult brought one public school child (which also is an overestimation) at best only about 22,000 public school children attend the parade and rodeo each year. That’s roughly 16 percent of all the kids let out of school.

Since the number is likely much lower than that, it’s a safe bet to say that 90 percent of Tucson’s public school kids don’t go to the parade or rodeo.

If so, then what’s the point of letting them out of school for it?

While the kids get let out of school thanks to tradition, few parents get let out of work. That means tens of thousands of public school kids in Tucson spend “Rodeo Break” in day care or sitting at home watching TV (or perhaps participating in other activities not as benign as TV viewing).

The rodeo and the parade are great Tucson traditions and one of the few things that still connects the city to its Western roots. This isn’t an argument for ending those.

Parade organizers might even get more people, and more kids, to attend if it moved the parade to Saturday.

But if the choice is having 9-out-of-10 kids sitting around doing nothing for two days or having them in school, then it’s time for the tradition to end.

Rodeo break is no longer necessary.

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