Stock Show & Rodeo’s impactful 73-year history – mySA

The San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo has been a staple through the years, a time of year that the boot-scootin’ and livestock lovin’ locals look forward to every February. Though how San Antonio experiences rodeo season has changed over the years, especially with the 2023 cancellation of the beloved Cowboy Breakfast, the history of the two-week event proves that the rodeo has only gotten better with time.

Here’s how the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo got to be what it is today.

How the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo began

The city’s rendition of the rodeo first began in 1950 (though inspired by a smaller event the year prior), then billed as the San Antonio Livestock Exposition and Rodeo and hosted at Freeman Coliseum. Joe Freeman himself pushed to build the venue specifically for the rodeo after the Texas Agricultural Fair was held in San Antonio at facilities that fell short for the occasion. He was inspired by his interests in supporting local youth as well as agriculture and livestock. Bexar County donated 175 acres of land and passed a $1.75 million bond to make it happen.

Freeman Coliseum construction in 1949.
Freeman Coliseum construction in 1949.Express-News file photo

For the inaugural season, tickets cost 60 cents for adults while children could attend the rodeo for the low price of 30 cents, according to advertisements in the San Antonio Express. This may be why more than 250,000 fans attended the rodeo during its inaugural year. Though everything is wickedly expensive in 2023 (have you seen the price of eggs?), tickets to the fairgrounds cost $10 for adults and $5 for children. Of course, if you’re catching a concert then that’ll cost you a bit extra (but nothing like trying to see Taylor Swift).

In this day and age, the 10-day festival welcomes more than 1.3 million visitors each year.

Lassie shakes hands with fans between appearances in the rodeo entertainment programs at Freeman Coliseum in February 1963.
Lassie shakes hands with fans between appearances in the rodeo entertainment programs at Freeman Coliseum in February 1963.Courtesy UTSA Special Collections /Zintgraff Collection

Rodeo’s impact on San Antonio

On top of entertaining crowds each year, both with performances (especially from big names like Loretta Lynn in 1987 and Garth Brooks in the ’90s, as well as an appearance by Lassie in 1963) and livestock showcases, the rodeo gives back to the community. In 1984, the Stock Show & Rodeo began a scholarship program in order to encourage Texas youth to pursue agricultural studies. Four-year scholarships totaling $90,000 were awarded to 15 students that year.

“A lot of people don’t realize how much we actually give away as an organization,” says Chris Derby, chief marketing officer for the nonprofit. A percentage of all of the funds made at the event directly benefit Texas youth.

Since the Scholarship Fund was founded, more than $243 million has been awarded to students across the Lone Star State.

After more than half a century, the rodeo officially moved next door to the AT&T Center, then called the SBC Center, in 2003. The change in venue meant more than 16,000 spectators could attend each event, leading to multiple awards from the PRCA in the 2000s, as well as a place in the PRCA Hall of Fame. With the move, the Freeman Coliseum has since been used by commercial vendors and as a marketplace.

The San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo is what it is today thanks to the work of more than 6,000 volunteers, allowing the annual event to raise millions of dollars to go toward scholarships, grants, endowments, and more to benefit Texas youth embedded into the livestock and agriculture life.

“Without the volunteer help, there’s no way we’d be able to give away what we give away in scholarships and grants and endowments,” Derby says. In 2022, the Stock Show & Rodeo contributed $11.5 million, impacting more than 21,000 students.

Derby says the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo is one of the only shows of its kind that features participation from youth hailing from every single county in Texas.

“We invite everybody to come out and be a part of our event,” Derby says. Not every student involved has to be a member of the Texas FFA Association or Texas 4-H, but can instead take part in the agricultural event through speech or cooking competitions.

A rough ride for Marvin Holmes from Pickens, Okla., during the San Antonio Live Stock & Rodeo in San Antonio in 1959.
A rough ride for Marvin Holmes from Pickens, Okla., during the San Antonio Live Stock & Rodeo in San Antonio in 1959.Express-News file photo

Longstanding tradition 

When at the fairgrounds and watching the competitions, Derby says he wants San Antonians and other rodeo visitors to realize that they’re making a memory. As a native San Antonian, he has fond memories of going to the rodeo with his family and friends as a youngster.

“It’s a tradition,” he says, calling the rodeo “a positive reflection of memories.”

As a family-friendly event, Derby says the rodeo is a prime spot for old-fashioned fun with carnival rides, foods, and shows. Even with its commitment to the past, the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo remains a growing entity.

“There’s been a lot of changes,” Derby says. He says a “traditional plateau” impacted what the rodeo had to offer, prompting the nonprofit to shake things up with the layout of the grounds, a focus on entertainment, and offering more interactive, yet subliminal ways for attendees to appreciate agriculture.

“The tradition of rodeo has been around for 400 years and we try to keep that tradition moving in our show,” Derby says.

Now that’s all for today’s history lesson. Let’s rodeo, San Antonio!

Original News Source Link