By Ted Harbin
In Bandera, Texas, rain filled the rivers and creeks that surrounded the Mansfield Park Rodeo Arena. They then filled the roadways that led to and from the complex.
In Claremore, Okla., saturated ground continued to feel the heavy pressure applied by more rain throughout the three-day Will Rogers Stampede. By Sunday night, back pens looked like thick, dark-brown soup. So did some of the parking areas around the arena.
But rodeo doesn't play by Mother Nature's plans. The show continued, even with some delays. The Bandera Pro Rodeo cancelled its Saturday night show and offered contestants an opportunity to compete Sunday – originally, producer Jim Gay had planned an afternoon matinee, but the crew opted to double up the final performance that evening.
"The upper ground between the creek and the river has never flooded," said Bandera chairwoman Janna Lindig, who grew up in the area and has plenty of history in her memory.
That arena ground became the sanctuary for cowboys, cowgirls and others associated with the event. When the floodwaters were rising, Lindig opted to evacuate a choir from San Jose, Calif., that was on hand to sing the national anthem. That very well may have been the last vehicle in or out of the complex.
"I did not want anybody evacuating," she said. "I knew that area would not flood."
Claremore had flooding all across town. It was more about saturation than anything, but the creeks and ditches overflowed. Intersections became fast-moving streams. Fire Capt. Jason Farley lost his life in a rescue attempt on Saturday night.
"Our community lost a man who gave his life trying to make sure others were safe," said David Petty, chairman of the rodeo committee. "We were able to pay tribute to him in our final performance Sunday night, and the community has really reached out to his family since.
"As far as the rodeo, we worked really hard to try to make it a great event, and I think we accomplished it. On our final night in the nastiness, we had three champions win their events, including our team ropers. I also couldn't believe the crowds we had every night, even though it rained every night."
PHOTO BY: Robby Freeman
But the conditions weren't the greatest for the barrel racers. In fact, the 10 fastest runs that earned checks were all made Friday morning during slack, when the ground conditions were great. Michele McLeod won the Claremore title with a 17.41-second run. Only one cowgirl made a run on Saturday night, and none were part of the final performance.
"Generally that arena is won when it's wet and muddy, but it was so saturated already before we began our rodeo," Petty said. "On Saturday night, we had rushing water in our parking lot. It was as bad as I've seen it. When you add extreme amounts of rainfall to already saturated ground, there's just not much you could do about it."
Bandera arena for Sunday performance
PHOTO BY: Brenda Crowder and Shawna Ray
Lindig said Bandera was helped a lot by the arena's higher ground, but she gave most of the credit to John Teich, the groundskeeper for the arena.
"That guy knows what to do with that arena," Lindig said. "As of (Tuesday), that arena was back to being soup. He just knows what to do.
"He got to the arena Sunday morning and got to work. He is amazing. I think people will tell you that our Sunday night ground was some of the best ground they ran on. There weren't any slips. His main concern was the safety of the riders and the horses in barrel racing."
It showed. Jamie Barrow was scheduled to run Saturday night. By the time she ran Sunday, she posted a 17.50-second run, which rewarded her with a tie for the title with Jordan Wright.
"It was scary," she said of her Saturday experience. "I sat there in the flood forever. A bunch of us had parked on top of the hill, and right across from the arena was the Medina River. A trail rider was driving his trailer on the highway, and I guess it hydroplaned and went into the river. I had never seen a flood before, and I didn't like it.
"The arena wasn't bad at all. It was actually pretty good and fast."
It paid off for Barrow, and it was an experience she likely will never forget.
"I know I don't want to have to go through a flood again," she said.