“This is Oakley” : The Oakley Rodeo returns to normal
The four-day event began on Thursday night
The first night of the 86th annual Oakley Rodeo featured plenty of symbols of small town America: horseback riders carrying flags, cowboy hats and plenty of food.
But for the rodeo as well as the town of Oakley, it signaled the return of normalcy. Spectators came from all over to pack the sold-out rodeo, welcoming a crowd that dwarfs the town itself. The stands were full of fans cheering on cowboys from across the country as they competed in events like bareback riding, where competitors hold on for dear life for eight seconds while maintaining proper technique.
“This is Oakley,” Oakley councilmember Steve Wilmoth said. “This is what we do, so it’s a pleasure, it’s an honor to be a part of it. It’s what keeps us rolling in town, that’s for sure.”
The rodeo controversially hosted the event last year with limited capacity despite concerns over the coronavirus pandemic. With the threat of the pandemic looming over the event and the lack of fans, it didn’t feel the same. This year’s Oakley Rodeo marked not only the return of normalcy, but also the return of a beloved tradition.
“I think people are happy to get back in here and do this, and it’s been good,” Wilmoth said. “I think people are ready for this to come back, so I think it’s been really good.”
The return of a normal Oakley Rodeo also once again provided opportunities for local businesses and organizations to raise money. Food trucks were parked outside the gates, serving the hungry masses.
For an organization like the Oakley Civic Club, it was a chance to raise money to return to the community. On Thursday, the club was selling fleece blankets and raffle tickets next to the front gate. Last year, the club didn’t have the opportunity to sell anything, but it was back in business on Thursday.
Tonia Walkenhorst, who has been a part of the club for 15 years, was operating the booth on Thursday night, though the fundraiser itself has lasted for longer.
“It’s nice to see,” she said. “We didn’t get to do anything last year.”
This year’s riders brought energy to the crowd throughout the night and delivered quality performances throughout the event.
“It’s been excellent, our contestants have been huge,” Wilmoth said. “Our fans have been good, it’s been great.”
In the town of Oakley, this is the highlight of not just the summer, but the whole year. The rodeo is the trademark event of the town. Oakley’s welcome sign even reads, “Home of the July 4th rodeo and celebration!”
“I’ve been to a lot of rodeos, this one’s always been pretty solid,” Wilmoth said. “It’s a good rodeo, we move it quick. People seem to like it. I’m glad they’re all back.”
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