by sabrina forse tatsch | photos by gods creation photography and ric anderson
Lights are flickering as fans rush to their seats, their tickets clutched in their hands. Music is pumping through the speakers of the Foster Communications Coliseum. Cowboys are balancing their boots against the metal of chutes as bulls are ushered in. Children savor the sweetness of cotton candy against their lips as their knees bounce in excitement. “We want people to feel the hair on the back of their neck. They’re about to see the best of the best and we want to showcase that,” said Kevin Collins, San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo Board member and volunteer.
It’s the event that the Concho Valley eagerly anticipates every year. February in San Angelo is synonymous with the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo. “Our objective is to produce the best rodeo we can. We try to structure it so that it’s a combination of educational and entertainment elements that make families eager to come back year after year,” said Kermit Wendland, Operations Director of the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo Association.
While families are concentrating on the excitement of the cowboys, rough stock and equine athletes, there are a multitude of volunteers working before, during and after the show to bring San Angelo the best rodeo, livestock show, vendor events and carnival that they can. “When we shut down the last day of the rodeo, we literally start planning for next year right then. It’s a year-round process,” said Wendland.
Kermit Wendland, Operations Director of the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo Association.
Wendland has served on the rodeo staff since 1988 but started volunteering in the cattle department for the livestock show in 1971. He’s humble about his role, but earned the association’s top honor for volunteers, the Gold Spur Award in 2008. In 2014, former presidents of the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo honored him by creating the Kermit Wendland Scholarship. “Kermit is a wizard when it comes to navigating the fairgrounds. At any time during the rodeo, he knows where everyone is, and where everything is. What is most important about Kermit is that if the phone rings, he answers it. If you ask him to do something, consider it done,” said Collins.
It’s that spirit of volunteerism that has made the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo a Concho Valley tradition since 1932. “There’s an army of volunteers that take their vacation time during February just so they can volunteer at the livestock show and rodeo full-time. That’s dedication,” said Wendland.
Collins is one of those volunteers who takes time off his full-time job to serve at the rodeo. He started volunteering on the rodeo committee 22 years ago and has served on the board for two years. “When I got on the committee, there was a movement to try and spice up the rodeo experience. It’s always been a great show but was centered around those actively involved in the sport of rodeo so we got together and tried to develop it into something that was more of an experience for everyone, even those that don’t know much about rodeo,” said Collins. “Our committee helped bring rock and roll into the rodeo with the lasers and rock music.”
Kevin Collins, San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo Board member and volunteer.
“We want people to feel the hair on the back of their neck. They’re about to see the best of the best and we want to showcase that.” – Kevin Collins
While most rodeo fans aren’t thinking about the rodeo until they’re starching their jeans and pressing their shirts the evening of the show, Collins, Wendland and other volunteers begin each and every day of the rodeo early in the morning. “We begin each day about 7:30 a.m. and check on the arena. We make sure everything is clean. We make sure the VIP parking is set up and get the Goodfellow Air Force Base volunteers where they need to be,” said Collins. Then, they coordinate the day sheets. Those are the sheets inserted into programs with the names of daily rodeo contestants. “The worst thing that can happen is to have someone on the day sheet that doesn’t end up riding that night,” said Collins. Once volunteers start folding day sheets, Collins and other committee members head into a production meeting to review elements of the show. “We meet with the rodeo production committee and go over everything from the national anthem singers to the music to the scripts and skits for the night,” explained Collins. Volunteers then deal with sponsor relations to make sure the sponsors and VIP areas are ready for the rodeo. “We also handle the shuttle drivers and make sure they know the routes and the parking flow,” said Collins. As fans start entering the Foster Communications Coliseum, Collins and his fellow committee members may greet you at the door. They’re also handling any ticket issues that may arise.
During the show, the volunteers are actively running around to make sure that the rodeo production is as seamless as possible. While you’re focused on the cowboys and cowgirls, they’re the ones darting in and out of the area virtually unnoticed. “They call us the rodeo ninjas. You see us running everywhere and doing everything that’s necessary,” said Collins. These rodeo ninjas are the guys who are playing with fire, literally. “We assist the certified pyrotechnics expert during the show. I’ll never forget the time one of our committee members nearly got burned. We have a five or six second window to clear the area to shoot lasers on the trigger board before it blows up. He turned right when he was supposed to turn left and the laser shot right through him. He wasn’t harmed but it’s those types of things that get your adrenaline running,” said Collins.
After the show, while fans are enjoying themselves at the carnival or the beer barn, rodeo volunteers are still working. “We take all the results of the rodeo and go through the video to meet with the folks from KLST and write the stories to go with the video for the news,” said Collins. “We generally get done around midnight and then start all over again at 7:30 a.m. the next day.”
While Collins and his fellow committee members are ensuring an action-packed rodeo, Wendland and countless other volunteers are making sure the livestock show competition that attracts more than 10,000 entries each year, is a success. “Before the livestock show even starts, we’re getting the areas ready for them. We bring in fifteen truck-loads of wood shavings. Each truck has about 1,200 bags of those shavings that we place in the pens,” said Wendland. “We’re also constantly transitioning buildings. Once a horse event is over in one area, we convert it to a cattle barn which means taking out the horse stalls. Once everyone has gone home, the night shift volunteers are under a lot of pressure to convert the buildings. We operate our livestock areas twenty-four hours a day.”
The San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo Association rents the Foster Communications Coliseum for the rodeo itself. “Depending on when we can take possession of the building, we bring the dirt in and that’s a big job. We rely heavily on volunteers to bring the dirt in and set the chutes and panels up,” said Wendland. The fairgrounds, the 1st Community Federal Credit Union Spur Arena and three livestock buildings are used. In 1999, the voters of San Angelo passed a half-cent sales tax to stimulate economic development. “We pledged to voters that if they passed it, we would work hard and wisely with that tax money. We told them it would be an investment that would prove to be a positive return on the community and we felt we’ve been doing that,” said Wendland. “We use the HEB Community Center building during the rodeo, have swine shows in there and then turn it around for the annual Feast of Sharing. Everything is portable so we can get the best use out of each building.”
Understanding the best use for each building and determining new ways to generate excitement is the goal for the volunteers each year. “Every single year, we try to figure out how to make the rodeo even cooler than it already is,” said Collins.
“We’re constantly transitioning buildings. Once everyone has gone home, the night shift volunteers are under a lot of pressure to convert the buildings. We operate our livestock areas twenty-four hours a day.” – Kermit Wendland
Managing the best rodeo and livestock experience for fans is one that volunteers are proud to be a part of. “Everyone is tired by the time the rodeo is over but there is a great sense of accomplishment. For me personally, it’s the hardest work I do all year but so different from what I do during my day-job,” said Collins. “I’m a tennis professional by trade so rodeo is like Halloween for me. The other committee members and I get to dress like cowboys and bust our tails during the rodeo.” It’s that hard work that earned San Angelo two consecutive nominations by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) for one of the best large indoor rodeos in the country. “Everyone likes to be involved with a winner,” said Collins. “The San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo is definitely a winner.” †