The Roy Rodeo is first and foremost a small-town celebration.
But don’t let its quaint nature fool you, attendees and organizers say.
“It’s the best little rodeo in Western Washington,” said Mike Brown, a board member for the Roy Pioneer Rodeo Association, which coordinates the twice yearly event.
Many regulars say the rodeo is a destination for semiprofessional bull riders and other competitors.
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Arena workers are mostly volunteers, many of them students from local schools.
Many of the sponsors are local businesses — the Roy Pub & Eatery and Eatonville-based King Feed, for example.
But cowboys and cowgirls come from all over the region, even Canada, to compete in front of roughly 3,500 spectators over Labor Day weekend. That’s more than four times the year-round population of Roy.
Mike Erickson, longtime board president for the Roy Pioneer Rodeo Association, said the rodeo has changed very little since it started in 1959.
What keeps people coming back every year?
“The wrecks,” he said, chuckling. “They all come to see the thrill of fast times.”
Erica Buller is a lifelong resident of the south Pierce County city, and says so with a lot of pride. She ran a concession booth Saturday as part of a Roy Elementary School PTSA fundraiser.
The many volunteer opportunities epitomize what the rodeo is all about, she said.
“It’s all community based,” she said.
It’s also an economic engine in the small city. Rodeo officials say a large portion of annual income for local businesses comes from the rodeo events in June and September.
Don Brown has lived in nearby Spanaway for about 35 years, but Saturday was his first trip to the rodeo. He brought his great-grandson, 4-year-old “Li’l Don,” who is visiting from Colorado for the summer.
“He wanted to come see a cowgirl,” Brown said, laughing. “The crowd is kind of surprising. I didn’t think there would be as many people here.”
And it was a lively crowd. Country music blared through the speakers as the announcer and his sidekick, rodeo clown Wyatt Grahn, pumped up spectators.
People in the bleachers danced and cheered in a sea of flannel and cowboy hats.
Carolyn Smith of Auburn fit in well, donning a hot pink Western shirt and a cowgirl hat.
“I just like the small, hometown feel of it,” she said of the rodeo.
The crowd erupted as one of the first competitors made it out of the gate. The rider in the bareback bronc competition bested the bucking horse, earning 81 points.
“That’s higher than you can count,” the clown yelled, joking with the announcer.
In the saddle bronc competition, Tyler Hill of Klamath Falls, Oregon, wasn’t as lucky. The horse he was riding, Slayer, lived up to its name; barely through the gate, Hill was on the ground.
That’s the kind of entertainment people want to see, Olympia resident Joe Campo said.
“It’s a sense of America you don’t normally get,” he said.
IF YOU GO
The Roy Rodeo continues Sunday (Sept. 6) at 8710 Higgins Greig Road. Gates open at noon. Events begin at 1:30 p.m.
Admission is $12 for adults, $6 for seniors, $5 for kids ages 6-12 and free for kids 5 and younger; cash only on the rodeo grounds.