If there ever was a question of just how important Cattle Call Rodeo is to the Imperial Valley, the 2020 rodeo held amid the COVID-19 shutdowns provided proof that from its very beginning 64 years ago, Cattle Call has not only been a celebration of community, but it has also been lifted-up by that very same community.
In the months leading up to last year’s rodeo, the Cattle Call Rodeo Committee had a difficult decision to make—cancel the rodeo for the first time in its history or hold the rodeo without spectators and without the necessary ticket sales to fund the rodeo.
The committee decided the rodeo must go on, and the Imperial Valley unequivocally showed its support with sponsors and donors coming forward just as they had in years’ past. New donors also came forward to show their support, and community members, local companies and organizations bought boxed seats for a rodeo they knew they couldn’t attend.
“They all helped us to be able to do the rodeo last year and we will be forever grateful,” said Carson Kalin, who chairs the rodeo committee.
Ultimately, Cattle Call Rodeo was only one of two rodeos held in California last year—which made the rodeo that much more critical to the cowboys and cowgirls competing.
Flash ahead to 2021, and as the saying goes, what a difference a year makes. This year’s rodeo—the 65th annual Cattle Call—will once again have spectators with a greenlight from Imperial County that has loosened COVID restrictions in step with state guidelines.
As a thank you to all the support the rodeo received last year, Kalin is promising a rodeo that will once again celebrate the community and be “one of the best rodeos” the committee has ever produced.
“This will not be one to miss. You are going to want to see this rodeo,” said Kalin, who added the rodeo committee decided in March to move forward with this year’s rodeo with spectators in attendance.
The 2021 Cattle Call Rodeo will be held Nov. 13 and 14, and all the traditional events will be returning, from the professional rodeo cowboys and cowgirls who compete in events such as bareback, bull riding and barrel racing.
Fan favorite events will also be returning, including mutton busting for children, the coin toss (a kind of treasure hunt), wild horse racing, team penning and Family Day at the rodeo on Nov. 14. The rodeo committee is also preparing to hold the Mini-Rodeo once again for children and seniors who might not otherwise be able to attend the main rodeo.
Award-winning announcer Randy Corley will be back as will rodeo clown Charley “Too Tall” West. Famed parachutist Kent Lane will return to open the rodeo shows, and at the time of this story, Kalin said the rodeo committee is negotiating with a number of other contract entertainers.
As always, the Flying U Rodeo, which has been a part of Cattle Call Rodeo from its very earliest days, will provide the livestock, ensuring that some of the rankest bulls and bucking broncs provide exciting performances throughout the rodeo.
This year will even feature a Jumbotron screen for spectators to enjoy instant replays. The rodeo will also be televised, as it was last year, on the Cowboy Channel.
“I am so looking forward to seeing spectators once again in the stands,” Kalin said. “Last year we only had four cardboard cutouts in the stands of John Wayne, George Bush, Darth Vader and Elvis Presley, and that just didn’t cut it. It will mean so much to walk into that rodeo stadium this year and see the crowds.”
The stadium seats 5,500 people per performance, and the rodeo committee—operating under guidelines—is looking to fill to capacity. At the time of this story, masks were not expected to be necessary, but the rodeo committee was going to continue to monitor the situation and act within the county’s regulations.
Reflecting on the 2020 rodeo, Kalin said it was a struggle to hold the event without ticket sales, but he said the rodeo committee worked hard to make it happen.
“I am so proud of the work of my fellow committee members,” Kalin said. “They took on the challenge of making the rodeo happen in the toughest of times because they knew what an important tradition the rodeo is, and together we put on a rodeo that not only kept the tradition alive, but also was done safely.”
He added, “And this year, I am so thankful to the committee for the tireless work they’ve put in to create a rodeo that will be one of the best ever.”
Last year’s rodeo (just like this year’s) was only possible, Kalin further said, because of the community’s support, which backed the rodeo financially even when it was known no one would be able to attend. The fact that Cattle Call was only one of two rodeos held in the state was largely due to the community support, he said.
The rodeo last year actually had one of its biggest turnouts of contestants ever as the cowboys and cowgirls looked to practice their sport and win some prize money in a year that saw them mostly unable to showcase their sport. Kalin is hoping for another large turnout of contestants this year, including national champions.
He thanked all those who stepped up to make last year’s rodeo happen, including the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which provided guidance on how to safely hold the rodeo with an eye toward protecting the contestants.
He also thanked the Claddagh Club, which each year sells tickets on behalf of the rodeo committee for a donation to the club. However, even though last year there were no ticket or beer sales for the club to participate in, club members still donated their time to help with COVID protocols. Additionally, the Sheriff’s Activities League, while unable to raise money during the rodeo through beer sales, still were on hand to ensure the safety of last year’s rodeo.
Critical support for the rodeo also came from the city of Brawley and Imperial County, Kalin said, both last year and this year.
City and county officials said the rodeo absolutely has their support.
“The rodeo and the additional activities of Cattle Call week are one of the premier events of the year,” said Brawley City Councilman Sam Couchman. “It’s both financially and emotionally very important to both our city and the entire Imperial Valley.”
Imperial County Executive Officer Tony Rouhotas said the county was ready to assist in any way it could last year and is equally ready this year. Rouhotas added he is pleased to see the rodeo returning to having spectators again this year.
“We have to get back to normal living,” Rouhotas said. “Being able to attend the rodeo is a good step in the right direction.”
Kalin said for the rodeo committee, the annual effort of planning the rodeo is a labor of love because of the activities Cattle Call brings to the city of Brawley and the entire county, not to mention the revenue it brings to the Valley for local businesses and for clubs and organizations that depend on the rodeo to raise money for the work they do.
“I think it has to be worth millions of dollars to our community,” he said.
He added the idea of community is critical to the rodeo. More than just a professional sporting event, the rodeo unites families and friends, many of whom return to the Valley each year to enjoy the tradition of the rodeo and the traditions their own friends and families have of spending time together during the rodeo.
“It really is a celebration of our community,” Kalin said.
As the rodeo committee focuses on finalizing their plans leading up to Cattle Call, Kalin said each member of the committee will do so with both a sense of pride and feeling of thankfulness that once again, the community has come out to support the rodeo—and this year they can all sit together in the stands to enjoy the performances that the community support has made possible.
“We are so thankful for the ongoing community support and because of that support I’m certain this rodeo will continue to be tradition in the Imperial Valley for the next 64 years,” Kalin said.
This story by Darren Simon was first published by the Imperial Alive Magazine in August 2021. It is being posted on this website with permission from the magazine.