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For one clan, rodeo evokes Old West

Citizen Staff Writer



Ya wanna be a cowpoke, pardner? Well here’s your chance – the rodeo’s back in town.

So pull on a pair of cowboy boots, put on a Western shirt and a pair of blue jeans, join the crowd and feel the romance of the Old West.

The 84th annual La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, with nearly 700 contestants, runs from Saturday to March 1 and includes the 84th annual Tucson Rodeo Parade on Thursday.

It’s the world’s longest nonmotorized parade and features riders on horseback, antique carriages and wagons, Native American dancers and floats celebrating the American West of yesteryear.

“It keeps us in line with where we really came from,” Joe Parsons of Marana said. “It’s part of Americana.”

Parsons ought to know. The 52-year-old rancher is part of the second generation of a three-generation rodeo family.

Parsons’ father, Charlie Parsons, 72, participated in the 1950s in roping and bull-riding events at the rodeo.

He has retired from active competition, but Joe Parsons’ two brothers will compete in rodeo events this year, as will one of his two daughters and his son.

Parsons will sit out this year because of a shoulder injury he sustained while roping.

For spectators, Parsons said, Tucson’s rodeo is a chance to connect with the Old West and its heritage of rugged individualism.

“Rodeo is just the tradition of the lifestyle that our first settlers of the West did,” Parsons said.

Many rodeo events come from ranching: breaking bucking horses, and roping and wrestling calves for doctoring or branding.

“That, to me, is the tie to the real ranching,” said Parsons, whose family owns spreads near Picacho northwest of Tucson and in the Empire Mountains to the south of the city.

“Everybody would like to be a cowboy in some sense,” Parsons said.

“My family came from a ranching background many years ago in South Texas and New Mexico.

“And, my dad always loved horses, loved ranching and the Western way of life. We were rodeo, we rodeoed.”

Parsons is not alone when it comes to the love of rodeo.

This year, contestants in the Tucson rodeo will be at a six-year high, having gone from 485 in 2003 to 684 this year, said Joan Liess, of the Fiesta de los Vaqueros rodeo committee.

From 2003 to last year, spectator attendance has risen from nearly 46,000 to a little more than 47,000, Liess said.

“We’re one of the top 25 rodeos in the nation,” Liess said.

Nationally, rodeo attendance has been about 24 million a year since 2004, said Jim Bainbridge of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the world’s largest rodeo sanctioning organization.

The association sanctions about 600 rodeos worldwide, Bainbridge said.

While the number of people going to rodeos has remained steady, Bainbridge said, the number of people maintaining full membership in the organization has dropped from 6,072 in 2006 to 5,589 last year.

Bainbridge attributed the drop in membership at least in part to the expense of following the rodeo circuit.

Parsons estimates that being a full-time, professional rodeo cowboy can cost $50,000 to $100,000 a year.

That money goes to food, lodging, gasoline or diesel fuel, and care and boarding for livestock, Parsons explained.

But a good cowboy or cowgirl can make between $150,000 and $500,000 a year, Parsons said.

The Rodeo Parade

On Thursday, Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup will serve as grand marshal of the two mile-long parade.

It will start at 9 a.m. and will run from East Ajo Way and South Park Avenue south along Park to East Irvington Road, west on Irvington to South Sixth Avenue and north on Sixth to the rodeo grounds. The parade will last about two hours.

The Rodeo Parade Committee expects thousands of spectators to line the parade route.

They will see 140 entries, including about 575 horses; more than 2,000 participants; 80 wagons and buggies; 12 marching bands; mariachis; and rodeo competitors and working cowboys, according to the parade committee.

Security will be strict along the parade route, due to the death in the 2007 parade of 5-year-old Brielle Boisvert, who rode as Little Miss Sonoita.

Boisvert, of Elgin, was knocked from her horse by a runaway wagon team and crushed under the wagon’s wheels.

And in 2006, Walkup’s wife, Beth, was injured when a runaway wagon team hit the carriage in which she and her husband rode.

Brielle’s death prompted city laws and parade rules aimed at prohibiting spectators from going into the street during the parade and prohibiting the sale or use of noisemakers near the route.

Laws already in place to promote parade safety were more strictly enforced last year.

Although regulations will be strictly enforced this year, fewer officers will be assigned to parade security, said Assistant Tucson Police Chief Kathleen Robinson.

Last year, 273 police officers were assigned to the parade; this year, 218 officers are assigned, Robinson said.

Robinson said that after reviewing last year’s parade, police commanders felt the department could provide safety with fewer officers.

This year, the parade committee is bringing in 122 volunteer parade marshals – 66 on horseback and 56 on foot – to help keep the parade safe, parade committee chairman Bob Owen said. Last year, 87 marshals accompanied the parade on horseback or on foot, Owen said.

There also will be 179 other volunteers along the route this year to help provide safety and to help spectators with such things as directions, Owen said.

Four committee members will be assigned as an inspection team, responsible for safety inspections of the wagons and to make sure wagoneers are complying with safety rules, Owen said.

Police will begin closing streets along the route to motor vehicles at 7 a.m. and will close all of those streets by 8 a.m., Robinson said.

A foot race, the “Human Stampede,” will precede the parade about 8:45 a.m. and will follow the parade route, said Herb Wagner, a parade committee spokesman.

The race’s organizer, Steve Taggart, owner of Tagg Running Events, said the foot race will benefit the Rodeo Parade Museum.

By Wednesday, 25 runners had registered for the race. Taggart said he hoped to get at least 50 signed up.

Anyone interested in joining the race can get details, including an online registration form, at www.taggrun.com.

Continued from 1A

Tucson’s 84th annual rodeo and parade bring back a taste of the Old West

Parade Rules


• Children under 14 years old may not walk in the parade.

• Those under 6 may not ride in a carriage or as wagon passenger.

• Kids under 8 may not ride horseback.

• Children between 8 and 12 who ride a horse must wear approved equestrian helmets.

• Each mounted child 8 to 12 must be accompanied by a parent or an adult guardian designated by a parent.

• It is illegal to ride a horse or drive a vehicle after consuming drugs or alcohol.

• Throwing candy or other items from floats or wagons is not allowed.


• It is illegal to hold, sell or give out things that could distract horses at the parade or to do anything that could startle a horse. Horns, balloons and fireworks are explicitly forbidden.

• The law prohibits doing anything to block, impede or interfere with the parade, or moving signs or barricades.

• It is illegal to go onto the roadways designated part of the parade if you are not a participant.

• Sitting on curbs, which will be painted red, is prohibited.

• Vendors are not allowed to walk around after the parade starts at 9 a.m.

• Police will begin closing streets to motor vehicles along the parade route at 7 a.m. and will close them all at 8 a.m.

Sources: City Ordinance 10494, Tucson police, Rodeo Parade Committee

All events are at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds, 4823 S. Sixth Ave., unless otherwise noted.


Opening Day, gates open 11 a.m.

12:30 p.m. Dodge Mutton Bustin’ and Justin Junior Rodeo.

2 to 4:30 p.m. ProRodeo Competition.

Admission: $12-$20.


Tough Enough to Wear Pink Day – Cowboys, cowgirls and fans wear pink and $10,000 is donated to the Southern Arizona Susan G. Komen Foundation for breast cancer programs.

11 a.m., gates open.

12:30 p.m. Dodge Mutton Bustin’ and Justin Junior Rodeo.

2 to 4:30 p.m., ProRodeo Competition.

Admission: $12 to $20.

Full rodeo performances resume on Thursday,.

Monday and Tuesday

8 a.m., Timed Events Competition (slack).

Barrel Racing, Steer Wrestling, Tie-Down and Team Roping only.

Admission: $5 general admission, children under 13 free, tickets available at the gate only.

REACh program for schoolchildren, 9:30 a.m. to noon.


8 a.m., Barrel Racing, (slack).

10 to 11:30 a.m., Gold Card Team Roping.

Noon to 5 p.m., Mike Cervi Jr. Memorial Team Roping. Thenonsanctioned team roping event honors the late PRCA roper from Marana.

Proceeds benefit the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund.

Admission: $10 general admission, children under 13 free. Tickets at the gate only.

9:30 to 11:15 a.m., REACh program for schoolchildren.

4 p.m., parade float decorating: northwest area of Tucson Rodeo Grounds parking lot.


9 a.m. Tucson Rodeo Parade.

Police will start closing streets to motor vehicles along the parade route at 7 a.m. and will have all parade route streets closed by 8 a.m.

Some 140 nonmotorized floats will be on display along the two-mile parade route, beginning at South Park Avenue and East Ajo Way, proceeding south on Park to East Irvington Road.

Grandstand seating at Irvington and South Sixth Avenue: Tickets are $6 for adults, $4 for kids under 13; tickets are available by phone at 294-1280.

Entry information: 294-1280; www.tucsonrodeoparade.com

11 a.m. gates open.

12:30 p.m. Dodge Mutton Bustin’ and Justin Junior Rodeo.

2 to 4:30 p.m., ProRodeo Competition.

Admission: $12 to $20


11 a.m., gates open.

12:30 p.m. Dodge Mutton Bustin’ and Justin Junior Rodeo.

2 to 4:30 p.m. ProRodeo Competition.

Admission: $12 to $20

Feb. 28

11 a.m., gates open.

12:30 p.m. Dodge Mutton Bustin’ and Justin Junior Rodeo.

2 to 4:30 p.m. ProRodeo Competition.

Admission: $12 to $20

March 1

Rodeo Finals.

11 a.m., gates open.

12:30 p.m. Dodge Mutton Bustin’ and Justin Junior Rodeo.

2 to 4:30 p.m., ProRodeo Competition. The top 12 competitors in each event return to determine the winners.

Admission: $14 to $22

Ticket Information:

All seats are reserved. Tickets are $12 to $22, based on seating area and day of event.

Tickets online at www.tucsonrodeo.com

By phone at 741-2233 or 800-964-5662.

Tickets available at the rodeo ticket office, 4823 S. Sixth Ave., and at the gate on the day of the event.

Information: 741-2233 or 800- 964-5662; www.tucsonrodeo.com


Entrances to parking lot from South Sixth Avenue and from South Third Avenue off Irvington Road. $5 per car.

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