Historic Arena and Unique Events Keep Nebraska's Big Rodeo Strong

By: Megan Johnson Email
By: Megan Johnson Email

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It's not easy to keep an event going for more than 90 years, but participants and fans are keeping the spirit of rodeo and rodeo entertainment alive in central Nebraska this week.

Bulls, broncs, and barrels - all staples of a rodeo, but long-time rodeors like announcer Hadley Barrett says those traditional events at Nebraska's Big Rodeo in Burwell aren't the only events that make it a must-see.

"As much as we'd like to believe that everyone is a dyed-in-the-wool bullriding fan, I think they're more interested in entertainment and the community," says Barrett.

Officials say chariot races and trick riding on the rodeo's oval track - a once common, but now rare feature of an arena - mean there's not a bad seat in the house, nor a dull moment.

"A lot of the events that were actually intended to be compliments to the bull dogging, calf roping, bareback riding, things of that nature, we still do in Burwell and it's probably one of only a half a dozen rodeos that does," says Barrett.

Officials estimate that 20,000 people come to Burwell for the rodeo, but those involved say it's more than just an annual event for them.

"I get to meet my friends once a year and be a part of the Burwell rodeo too," says Rodeo Board Member Dale Seidel.

Friends like Hadley Barrett and rodeo producer Bennie Beutler of Beutler and Son Rodeo Company, whose family has been providing stock at Nebraska's Big Rodeo since 1947.

"You buck lots of horses here and lots of bulls, and that's what make it fun," says Beutler. "There's something going on all the time, and [people are] very well entertained."

While attendance numbers and participants have been better the last few years, Beutler says as circuit schedules and prize money have shifted, so has the rodeo's popularity.

"It's been a struggle over the year's, we've had some up and down years, but the last 12 or 14 years Burwell rodeo's just gotten bigger and bigger every year," he says.

But officials say this year, Burwell's 91st rodeo, is set to be great with many former world champions and national finals qualifiers scheduled to compete.

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