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Coronavirus forces cancellation of 2020 College National Finals Rodeo

Coronavirus forces cancellation of 2020 College National Finals Rodeo

From the Our coronavirus coverage is free to read. Find it here. series

The 2020 College National Finals Rodeo is the latest event in Casper to be canceled because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, the governing body of college rodeo, made the decision Wednesday to cancel the CNFR, which was scheduled for June 14-20 at the Casper Events Center.

“As everyone involved with this event can testify, this is not the outcome we were hoping for, but public safety during the COVID-19 Pandemic is our most important concern,” the announcement states. “We know that every student athlete, coach, school administrator, parent, and fan, grieves the loss of this special event. This is devastating for all of us, but mostly for the NIRA athletes. We share your grief. This is unprecedented. May we all heal, extend grace, and recover to a better world.”

The annual season-ending college rodeo draws competitors from across the country to Casper and is a major economic boon to the Casper area.

“The cancellation of this year’s CNFR will have a $1.9 million economic impact on Casper,” said Brook Kaufman, CEO of Visit Casper. “While that is significant, the health, safety and well-being of the athletes, families, fans and our residents is far more significant. Although this year feels like a devastating loss, we look forward to welcoming the athletes, coaches and teams back for CNFR in 2021. Rest assured, our community will rally and be ready to cheer louder than ever.”

Casper City Manager Carter Napier said the decision to cancel the CNFR may have saved some money, as it avoids a situation in which preparations were begun for an event only for it to be canceled later on.

According to NIRA commissioner Roger Walters, safety played a major role in the NIRA’s decision.

“We are devastated to be making this announcement,” he said in a statement. “We wanted to be competing in Casper this summer, but we have to do the right thing to combat this Pandemic and keep our contestants and the State of Wyoming safe.”

Just last week, NIRA director of public relations & administration Sarah Neely said the NIRA board, which is comprised of faculty directors and student directors from each of the NIRA’s 11 regions, planned on having a video conference meeting May 14 to make a recommendation on whether the CNFR would go on as scheduled. However, as the country continues to work to get the coronavirus under control, NIRA officials determined it was in the best interest of all parties involved to cancel it now rather than wait.

Officials expect to make decision on College National Finals Rodeo on May 14

“I don’t think there was one thing you can pinpoint, it was a multitude of things,” Neely said. “So many of our schools in different states have different rulings for travel. And I know the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is also facing challenges and different states are also facing challenges.

“Obviously, public safety is the No. 1 issue for us. And the impact if we were to wait to make an official announcement ... the personnel and the schools being able to get there on such short notice, it was just easier to make the call earlier rather than later.”

For Casper College rodeo coach Jhett Johnson, who lives with his family on a ranch outside of town, not having the CNFR this summer is a double-edged sword. Both the Thunderbirds’ men’s and women’s teams had qualified for the CNFR by finishing second in the Central Rocky Mountain Region. The University of Wyoming men and women were leading the region after five fall rodeos, which are the only college rodeos they competed in before the spring season was canceled last month.

“I can’t believe it,” Johnson said. “It makes me sick because I live here. This community needs this. With so many events being canceled we needed the college finals, these businesses needed this.

“It’s going to be hard to recover,” he added. “With our men’s and women’s teams qualifying, that was 10 rooms that just Casper College was going to book. It’s not good at all.”

A former world champion team roper, Johnson also knows how difficult it is for all the competitors who had qualified for the CNFR to not get the chance to showcase their rodeo skills at the Events Center.

“We have nothing against (UW) personally,” Johnson said, “but when we started the spring season our team was thinking, ‘We’re going to win the region.’ And then you go from that excitement to … ‘Well, at least we made the college finals.’ And then you go from that to … ‘Never mind, they’re not even having it.’

“Now the kids have to start all over next year, and it’s hard to make it to the CNFR. So to say, ‘Oh, you’ll do it again.’ There’s no guarantee that they will.”

Unfortunately, that’s the situation 2020 CNFR qualifiers find themselves in after Wednesday’s decision. For just the second time since 1999 — the 2000 CNFR was held at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds in Casper — the Events Center won’t be hosting the showcase of college rodeo.

“It’s devastating,” Neely admitted. “It’s one of the saddest things we’ve ever had to do and it’s unprecedented, for sure. It’s a sad day for college rodeo. We just have to do the best we can with the cards we’re dealt right now and get ready for the 2021 CNFR.”

Staff writer Morgan Hughes contributed to this report.

Follow sports editor Jack Nowlin on Twitter @CASJackN

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Sports Editor

Jack Nowlin returned to the Star-Tribune in 2007 after eight years covering Michigan State University athletics. A Wyoming native, and a graduate of Jeffrey City High School and the University of Wyoming, Jack serves as the Star-Tribune’s sports editor.

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