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  • Paul Cooley

Gerry Rodeo News - March 2021

GERRY – Every type of sport has been affected by the shutdown due to the Corona virus, but none has been hit any harder than those who make their living in the sport of rodeo. Rodeo has no guaranteed contracts, no expense accounts, or payment for competing. In fact, they must pay to compete, and when their events are cancelled, the money stops completely.


The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which is the primary governing body for approximately 600 professional rodeos across the nation each year, reports that nearly two-thirds of those rodeos had to be cancelled in 2020 due to the virus restrictions. This means that their more than 7000 members, including over 5000 registered cowboys and cowgirls, were “out of work” and had to find ways to survive financially.


This results of this shutdown were felt locally as the Gerry Fire Department’s rodeo had to be postponed until 2021 after 75 consecutive years of bringing professional rodeo to Western New York. Not only did this affect the fire department financially, but it had a huge impact on rodeo personnel, including the following, who have been a longtime part of this local event:

Husband and wife Shawn and Shana Graham, owners of Painted Pony Championship Rodeo in Lake Lucerne, New York, have been a major part of the Gerry Rodeo for the past decade as they have been the stock contractors, furnishing the stock, equipment, and trained personnel needed to produce the rodeo. They produce 60-80 performances each year including those on a winter circuit in Florida. In addition, they have their own rodeo site in Lake Lucerne where they hold rodeos three nights a week during the summer as well as a Texas style barbeque prior to each performance.


Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, their entire schedule was cancelled, leaving them without income while expenses mounted, including the feeding and care of their more than 200 bulls and horses. In order to survive, Shawn is trimming cows’ hoofs for local farmers, a job which Shana says has him leaving home by 5:00 every morning, seven days a week, never getting home until after dark. Meanwhile, Shana has turned their barbeque site into a take-out restaurant, while home schooling their three children because their schools are closed. She says this has not been “easy or fun, but has been humbling” and she hopes for brighter days ahead. Shawn says they have not had to sell any of their livestock yet, with a big emphasis on “yet”.


Announcer Greg Simas, is a regular at the Gerry Rodeo where he serves as the master of ceremonies, keeping fans informed of the rodeo action from his seat on horseback. He has been one of the sport’s top announcers for the past 18 years, working between 80-100 rodeo performances a year across the United States and Canada and as far away as Australia.


The shutdown has hit him hard, too, as he lost 75% of his usual schedule, working only four rodeos in Utah, Montana, and Oklahoma. Simas, who lives in Danville, Pennsylvania, also has a wife and three sons to support. He says they are “getting by” by conserving money and using savings. One bright spot in this bad year was staying home and watching his oldest son help his football team go as far as the semifinals of the Pennsylvania state championships. Simas says things are beginning to look up for him as restrictions are slowly being relaxed, and he is presently in Florida where he will work four rodeos this month. Currently, none of his previously scheduled rodeos for this summer has been cancelled.


Dare-devil bull fighter Phil Hussmann, a regular at the Gerry Rodeo, whose job is to protect the cowboys when they are thrown from the bulls during the bull riding, has also had a tough year as his usual schedule of 40-50 performances was reduced to just one rodeo in February, just before the shutdown occurred. Hussmann, who has been involved in rodeo since he was 17, has supported his family this past year with work on a quarter horse fam near his home in Allentown, Pennsylvania, but still found his income cut by 50%. In addition, his wife Stacey, a substitute teacher, is out of work due to school closures and is home schooling their two boys, ages 15 and 10. In spite of the dangers of his role in rodeo, Hussmann, who has suffered numerous broken bones and multiple concussions from the bulls, says he hopes the virus is soon under control so he can get back into back on the rodeo circuit and do the job he loves so much.


As far as the Gerry Rodeo is concerned, chairman Tom Atwell says the rodeo committee is meeting monthly, making plans to resume professional rodeo action for the 76th year in their arena if restrictions permit. That rodeo is scheduled for four performances, Wednesday through Saturday, August 4-7. Fans can keep up with rodeo plans on the website www.gerryrodeo.org


Photo by Paul Cooley.

The Gerry rodeo grounds were empty this past August for the first time in 75 years, but plans are being made to bring professional rodeo action back this summer, August 4-7.

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