There’s a Northwest Tucson flavor to the 86th annual Fiesta de los Vaqueros, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association-sanctioned rodeo Feb. 19-27 at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds.
Among the locals is a reigning world champion, 2010 National Finals Rodeo barrel racing titlist Sherry Cervi of Marana. Cervi is a three-time world champion barrel racer who just set an all-time career earnings record in the event, topping $2 million. She won the NFR crown in December at the Thomas and Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Gary Williams, longtime general manager of the Tucson Rodeo and a retired pro bull rider himself, said Cervi is “having an incredible year, and she’s got a couple of incredible horses.”
The Parsons family of Marana is synonymous with Tucson rodeo, and it’ll be represented once more in 2011. Joseph Parsons, “one of the best young calf ropers going today,” is in the field, Williams said. Joseph’s uncle Cutter Parsons is entered in calf roping and steer wrestling, and Joseph’s sisters Emily and Erin are in the barrel racing bunch.
Marana bull rider Mikey Allison is fighting through injuries, but is entered.
“He’s a great young bull rider,” said Williams, who watched Allison rise through the junior ranks. “He was very close last year to riding a bull here at Tucson that had never been ridden before. He rode just over seven seconds, a great ride, but the bull just bucked him off. He’s got a lot of talent, a lot of try, a lot of heart. If he can stay healthy, he’s got a great career in front of him.”
Tucsonan Cesar de la Cruz, “a great team roper,” is a three-time national finals contest. He and Colter Todd of Marana hold the two-run team roping record in Tucson, needing all of 12 seconds to rope two calves in 2008. Team roper Victor Aros of Tucson has been to the NFR, too. They’re joined in that field by Maranans Cory Petska and T.J. Brown.
Steer wrestlers are also known as bulldoggers. They’re powerful cowboys, and two in the Tucson field are from the Northwest, Clayton Tuchscherer of Cortaro and Tim Robertson of Oro Valley.
The 2011 Tucson Rodeo has 650 contestants, up a few from last year. Arizona’s “celebration of the cowboy” has every reigning world champion competing. Among the entrants are 37 current and past world champions, and 231 NFR qualifiers.
They compete in seven traditional rodeo events – bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, team roping, bull riding and women’s barrel racing — for $420,000 in purse money.
“It’s high-quality rodeo,” Williams said. “It’s always been a major stop on the pro rodeo tour, for a lot of reasons, the prize money, and it’s the first big outdoor rodeo of the new year. Everybody wants to come to Tucson.”
Action begins with Dodge Mutton Bustin’ and Justin Junior Rodeo at 12:30 p.m. Pro rodeo action starts at 2 p.m. each of six afternoons. Sessions last right near two hours. On Sunday, the week’s top 12 cowboys and cowgirls in each event compete in the finals.
Williams, for one, doesn’t mind this winter’s dry weather. Rain can hurt the crowds – but not the performances – at the Tucson Rodeo.
Keeping the grounds in running shape is Bob “Wimpy” Trujillo, who’s done the work for essentially the last 40 years. The nickname came from childhood and Bob’s penchant for hamburgers. An aunt named him after the cartoon character from the “Popeye” TV show.
“Last year, we made him an honorary life member of the rodeo committee,” Williams said. “He’s had two bulls named after him, Wimpy and Wimpy II.”
The rodeo averages attendance of 50,000 to 55,000 for its six-day run at the 11,000-seat grounds, located at 4823 S. 6th Ave., the northeast corner of Irvington and South Sixth Avenue.
Ticket sales are going well, Williams said, “a little bit ahead” of last year’s pace. “There’s still lots of good seats left,” he said, for “the best in family, western entertainment that celebrates the heritage of this area.”
The 86th annual La Fiesta de los Vaqueros
Saturday, Feb. 19, 12:30 p.m.* – First Tucson Rodeo.
Sunday, Feb. 20, 12:30 p.m. – Second Tucson Rodeo.
Monday-Tuesday, Feb. 21-22, 8 a.m. - Slack competition for steer wrestling, tie-down and team roping and barrel racing only; entertainment features not included.
Thursday, Feb. 24, 9 a.m. – Tucson Rodeo Parade.
Thursday, Feb. 24, 12:30 p.m. – Third Tucson Rodeo.
Friday, Feb. 25, 12:30 p.m. – Fourth Tucson Rodeo.
Saturday, Feb. 26, 12:30 p.m. – Fifth Tucson Rodeo.
Sunday, Feb. 27, 12:30 p.m. – Tucson Rodeo Finals
*Pre-rodeo events include children’s Dodge Mutton Bustin’ and the Justin Junior Rodeo, beginning at 12:30 p.m. each day. Pro rodeo begins at 2 p.m. each rodeo day.
Slack competition for steer wrestling, tie-down and team roping on Feb. 21-22 is open to the public; $5 general admission; tickets available at the gate only. Free admission for school groups (no reservations necessary). Parking is free. Slack does not include barrel racing and roughstock events (bull riding, bareback and saddle bronc riding).
Rodeo ticket locations and prices:
Online tickets at www.tucsonrodeo.com; by phone at 741-2233, or (800) 964-5662, in person at Tucson Rodeo ticket office, 4823 S. 6th Ave. Rodeo tickets from $16 to $26 (includes all taxes and fees). All seats reserved.
Main lot at Tucson Rodeo Grounds, $5 per car.