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Dust settles after annual McCracken rodeo

7/13/2014

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

McCRACKEN -- Residents in this small Rush County community will awaken this morning to normalcy.

The thousands of people who have visited their town of approximately 150 the past few days, and the dust in Jack Wilson Mustang Arena, will have settled.

But they wouldn't change the hustle-bustle of the annual McCracken Rodeo, which has been a big part of the town for nearly 30 years on the second weekend of July.

The event that started as a place for bronc busters and bull riders and calf ropers to compete 50-some years ago now serves as a place for families to meet each summer and class reunions from the high school that closed in the mid 1980s.

Partly to honor Wilson -- who was instrumental for starting the rodeo back in the late '80s -- and partly because it's been so much a part of town for so long, volunteers made sure to carry on the annual affair.

So much so that the rodeo has received an award given by the Kansas Professional Rodeo Association for either the best rodeo or best committee every year since Wilson's death.

Roger Legleiter, chairman of the rodeo committee, attributes that continued success to the number of volunteers and sponsors.

"We have unbelievable sponsors," Legleiter said while talking about the sponsor signs on a billboard near the announcer's stand.

People come from other communities, including Hays, Ness City and La Crosse, to help out, he added.

"It's overwhelming when you see the list of volunteer help," Legleiter said.

He said the rodeo features sponsors from a 150-mile radius, including places as far away as Salina, Phillipsburg, Goodland and Dodge City.

The town gears up for the rodeo with Wednesday's competition sponsored by the National Barrel Horse. Then on Thursday is a slack performance.

The main two performance nights, Friday and Saturday, draw approximately 2,000 people each night, Legleiter said.

Proceeds from the rodeo, as well as sponsorship, provide upkeep and improvements to the rodeo grounds.

"It just gets bigger every year, so we can add more to it, too," Legleiter said, listing restrooms, bleachers, a ticket booth and concessions stand as recent improvements.

Legleiter worked closely with Wilson the past few years of Wilson's life to get the hang of the ins and outs of organizing such an event.

Just before he died, Wilson asked Legleiter and other committee members if they would try to carry on the tradition even after he was gone.

"The public and sponsors were a little worried it would go on," Legleiter said. "But we promised Jack that we would do the best we could for as long as we could."