Rodeo gears up for second year in Lebanon

Sinclaire Sparkman • May 31, 2017 at 9:27 PM

Contestants from across the United States, Canada and Australia are making plans to spend a week in Lebanon later this month for the National Junior High Finals Rodeo for the competition’s second year east of the Mississippi River.

Preparations are already underway at the James E. Ward Agricultural Center as the dirt was prepped with sand during Memorial Day weekend and stalls by the truckload are going up around the property. The first of 32 tractor-trailers bringing in golf carts for the event should arrive Friday. 

Austin White, National High School Rodeo Association vice president of marketing, said last year’s event brought 1,050 contestants, 1,300 contestant horses and just less than 1,000 campers who stayed on site for an average of eight days. He said more than 30,000 people visited the event, which was held east of the Mississippi River for the first time in its history in 2016.

“The facility has added a couple hundred more camping spaces than last year, so that will help relieve some of the camping pressure. It will spread everybody out a little more and allow more people to come in,” White said.  

NHSRA staff is set to get to Lebanon on Tuesday to begin preparations.  

White said one of the most exciting changes from last year is the ability to hold the trade show in the newly opened Expo Center. The trade show will begin June 17, one day before the rodeo kicks off competition.

“The whole building will become a hang out for everybody,” White said.

The National High School Rodeo Association Junior High Division Rodeo Finals will be June 18-24 in Lebanon for the second straight year. 

The county saw a $214,589 increase in sales tax revenue in June 2016 from June 2015. While the rodeo was not the sole contributor to the increase, local businesses were happy for the extra business brought by the event.

Last year White said the association pumped back about $141,550 into the local economy through advertising, Home Depot, Walmart, arena labor, disc jockey, Custom Metal, food purchases, doughnuts, Absolute Rental, Signs Now, Nashville Shores, ice, RV rentals, hotel rooms, Nashville International Airport, office supplies and golf cart gas.

White said he has already received multiple calls from local business owners curious about the schedule and changes to the event. He told The Democrat recently he believed Dollar General on Sparta Pike was a popular spot for rodeo contestants last year, which store management confirmed.

Store manager Heather Tuttle said the impact left some of the shelves empty, but the business was great.

Roxy Theater manager Summer Hicks said severe weather during last year’s competition resulted in the busiest Tuesday in the movie theater’s history as nearly 2,000 people made their way to watch a movie.

“We’re hoping for better weather this year,” White said. “The weather was kind of rough on us last year, but we’re thinking we will have better weather this year.”

Created in 2004, the NHSRA Junior High Division was established to bring the excitement of the sport to sixth through eighth graders and to serve as a feeder system into the high school ranks of the association. The 48 states and provinces that belong to the NHSRA also produce a junior high division, with more than 2,500 members competing. Junior high division students participate in a variety of events, including barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, breakaway roping, tie-down roping, chute dogging, team roping, ribbon roping and junior bull riding, bareback steer riding and saddle bronc steer riding.

Staff writer Xavier Smith contributed to this report.

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