Rodeo finds home in county
Abdallah Shrine event moves to Tonganoxie from KCK
Tonganoxie Abdallah Shrine Potentate Doug Smith probably is hoping Mother Nature is a rodeo fan.
The inaugural Abdallah Shrine Rodeo at the Leavenworth County Fairgrounds will get started today, May 24, and conclude Saturday, May 26, but forecasts call for scattered thunderstorms all three days.
"The only thing that might hurt us is the weather forecast," Smith said.
Still, Smith is hoping for a great crowd at the event. Rain or shine, the show is expected to go on, with rodeo competitions slated for each night of the three-day event, as well as Friday morning. He noted that a total of 340 contestants would compete in the rodeo, which is sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
Seating has been installed on the north side of the arena, pushing capacity to more than 3,000. David Todd, fair board president, said the previous capacity, with seating on the south side, was less than 1,300.
The rodeo will be the main event at the fairgrounds' renovated rodeo arena.
However, the three-day event is more than a rodeo, it's a full-fledged festival.
A craft show will be held all three days, while Ottaway Amusements will open carnival rides at 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday and noon Saturday. Meanwhile, Saturday morning, car enthusiasts can participate in the rodeo's car show. Registration will be from 8 a.m. to noon. And concessions and refreshments will be served on the grounds throughout the festival's duration.
"We're trying to make this more of a family-oriented affair, with a craft show, carnival and car show," Smith said. "There's something for everybody."
The Abdallah Shrine Rodeo will enter its 48th season when events begin Thursday. The annual festival's origin actually is in Wyandotte County, which it called home for 23 years before moving to Kemper Arena the next 20. The event then headed back to its original county and was put on the past four years at the Wyandotte County Fairgrounds.
However, rodeo organizers learned last year they needed to seek a new venue. The Unified Government of Wyandotte County sold more than 300 acres, which included the fairgrounds, to a group for development of a multimillion-dollar water park.
That left organizers without a home for their longstanding event, but in January, the Leavenworth County Fair Board and Abdallah Shrine reached an agreement to have the event in Tonganoxie.
The agreement stipulated that the Shrine organizers would rent the grounds for $7,000 this year, with an annual option of the same amount in 2008 and 2009. The annual option will continue for 2010 and 2011 for $7,500 each of those years.
As fair board president, Todd hopes Tonganoxie embraces the event and its potential.
"Well, I hope the city gets behind it," Todd said. "I think it's going to be a really great thing for the city of Tonganoxie because it's going to bring people to town who normally don't come to town.
"So, if that many people are coming to town, you know they're going to stop and eat at the restaurants and buy gas and everything."
Todd said between 3,000 and 4,000 people are expected for the three-day festival, which is the Shriners' biggest fundraiser of the year.
Smith said he likes the rodeo's new venue because it's attractive to many people in close proximity to Tonganoxie.
"We're anticipating a large crowd because we're in where people are more in touch with an outside rodeo," Smith said, as opposed to an indoor rodeo, as was the case at Kemper Arena.
"And I think we'll pull in from the small towns around but also Atchison, Leaven-worth and Lawrence. I think most people enjoy an outside rodeo."
The Abdallah Shrine district, Smith said, encompasses a good chunk of northeast Kansas, north to the Nebraska border, west to a line east of Topeka and south to a line south of Ottawa. And to the east, the Kansas-Missouri border.
He said a massive work force of 300 to 400 volunteers, all with ties to the Abdallah Shrine, make the event a reality.
"And I'd hate to count the hours," Smith said with a laugh.