LINCOLN, Neb. — The Lancaster Event Center has been selected to host a second rotation of the National High School Finals Rodeo (NHSFR) in 2026 and 2027. The National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) board of national directors voted unanimously to return to Lincoln on Saturday morning at their Mid-Winter Meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The event has rotated the past eleven years between the Wyoming communities of Gillette and Rock Springs, and in 2017 Lincoln was selected to be a third location to host in July 2020 and July 2021 with a possibility to earn a permanent rotation of the event every two of six years. Lincoln’s selection to host again in 2026 and 2027 is pending successful final contract negotiation over the next 45 days, the Event Center says.
“Nebraska's central location and the Lancaster Event Center’s master plan to add indoor arena space were the key factors in the decision to bring the finals again to Lincoln in 2026/2027,” said Tricia Schaffer, NHSRA national director for state of Nebraska who is based out of North Platte. “Each year our association votes more strongly to choose facilities that offer our 1,700 contestants the best once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete, without the factor of weather, throughout the 13 performances.”
The NHSFR is the world’s largest rodeo from a contestant standpoint with 1,700 high school rodeo athletes competing in 13 rodeo specialties and two shooting competitions. Each of the 50 states, provinces and countries send its top four qualifiers in each specialty. Contestants travel in mid-July each year to the NHSFR with their extended families and the rodeo is estimated to bring nearly 50,000 visitors to Lincoln with many staying multiple days.
“Winning the bid not only once but now twice for the NHSFR is thrilling! It shows the confidence this huge youth organization has in Lancaster Event Center and our city/county to be ready by July 2020,” said Kendra Ronnau, Lancaster County Agricultural Society vice president. “I feel the LEC is breathing new life into a county that has been heavily burdened with property taxes--having so many outside visitors come in will generate lots of outside sales tax dollars and local business income. It’s going to be time to go buy those boots and cowboy hat—we’ve got the largest all-youth rodeo coming to town!”
The 13 NHSFR rodeo specialties are Bull Riding, Bareback Riding, Saddle Bronc Riding, Tie-down Roping, Breakaway Roping, Steer Wrestling, Goat Tying, Pole Bending, Barrel Racing, Boys Cutting, Girls Cutting, Reined Cow Horse and a Queen Contest. The two shooting competitions are Trap Shoot and Light Rifle.
The High School Rodeo World Champions in each specialty will be crowned after 13 rodeo performances which will be open to the public over seven days at the Lancaster Event Center and shooting facilities nearby.
Over 10,000 Lancaster County residents are projected to take the opportunity to watch some of the next stars of rodeo right in Lincoln. In the recent 2018 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo run by Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) in Las Vegas 104 of 120 total contestants were NHSFR alumni. The most recent NHSRA alumni were from 2016 including brothers Ryder Wright, 2017 NFR World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider, and Rusty Wright, multiple time NFR qualifier in saddle bronc riding, as well as Jess Lockwood is back at the top of the PBR World Standings after winning the 2017 world title in bull riding.
“The City of Lincoln is excited that the National High School Finals Rodeo will return to Lincoln in 2026 and 2027. Lincoln has a growing reputation as a great city to visit, one that combines big-city dining, shopping and attractions with small-town friendliness and convenience,” said Mayor Chris Beutler upon hearing the news. “We look forward to giving another warm welcome to the 50,000 rodeo visitors and to offering area residents the opportunity to see top-notch high school rodeo competition.”
Past economic impact studies show the NHSFR brings millions of dollars of economic impact to the immediate host community and surrounding area. The rest of the state of Nebraska will also benefit as families drive to and from Lincoln, the Event Center said.
“Extrapolating from the recent NHSRA economic study for the Des Moines Junior High School Finals Rodeo, this impact should be $16 million per year for the Lincoln area alone,” said Dr. Eric Thompson, UNL professor of economics and director of the Bureau of Business Research. This added impact to Lancaster County from the NHSFR coming to Lincoln would be on top of the annual $40 million and growing economic impact recently measured in an economic impact study by Dr. Thompson for all 322 events at the Lancaster Event Center.
Overall, Lincoln and Lancaster County stand to benefit a total of $64 million over the four years of the NHSFR with added impact statewide, according to the Event Center.
The Lancaster Event Center its $3 million in planned improvements were critical to securing the NHSFR for Lincoln. The improvements were officially approved by the Lancaster County Board in November 2016 to be committed out of the Lancaster County Visitors Improvement Fund upon signing of a contract with the NHSRA. The fund is comprised of lodging taxes collected from visitors that are managed by the Lancaster County Visitors Promotion Committee to help add and improve attractions that will increase visitors to the county with oversight and approvals from the Lancaster County Board.