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Rodeo lassos the heart of Tucson

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Courtney Talak | The Daily Wildcat

The Quadrille de Mujeres, a women's speed and precision equestrian drill team who has been performing at La Fiesta De Los Vaqueros in Tucson for 36 consecutive years, lines up for their last ride at the 2015 rodeo.

There’s nothing more Tucson than La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, otherwise known as the Tucson Rodeo. It is a staple of life in this Southern Arizona city that has been the home to cowboys and cowgirls for over a hundred years. The event began back in 1925 and has since brought thousands of spectators from all over the world to Tucson every February.

As per tradition, the seven main events of rodeo will all be represented, including bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronco riding, tie-down roping, team roping, bull riding and barrel racing. All contestants are members of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association or the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association, meaning only professionals will be exhibiting their skills at this rodeo.

“This rodeo we have 719 contestants entered,” said Joan Liess, the marketing and media coordinator for the Tucson Rodeo. “We do have some local cowboys and cowgirls here from Southern Arizona, and we have 160 current or former world champions.”

The events begin Saturday, Feb. 18,  and continue to Sunday, Feb. 26, with the second week being the most popular due to the final rounds of events and the parade. For decades, the Tucson Rodeo was held within one weekend but Liess explained the rodeo was expanded to two about 10 years ago to allow more spectators to attend and give more time to accommodate events and contestants.

Courtney Talak | The Daily Wildcat

A young cowboy waits his turn for the 2016 Mutton Bustin’ contest at the 91st Annual La Fiesta De Los Vaqueros on Feb. 20, 2016.

The parade is one of the biggest events of the rodeo and is being held on Thursday, Feb. 23, beginning at 9 a.m. Winding down Park Avenue from Ajo Way to Irvington Road, the parade is always a spectacular event for the community and still holds the title of longest non-motorized parade in the world, over 200 floats.

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Food, clothing and fine art vendors will be lining the outside of the arena during the rodeo weekends. The Coors Barn dance is also held each night from 4-8 p.m.  and begins, according to the Tucson Rodeo website, “after the last bull bucks.”

Community support for the Tucson Rodeo has always been overwhelmingly positive.

“We’re very fortunate because we have great support from the community and tons of volunteers to help us out,” Liess said. “These are people that spend a lot of time and energy to keep this tradition alive in Tucson.”

Marana native and four-time world champion barrel racer Sherry Cervi remembers growing up around Tucson and always looking forward to the rodeo.

“I just grew up into rodeo and loved horses and loved competition,” Cervi said. “Being from Marana, I always went to the rodeo, whether I watched it or competed in it.”

Courtney Talak | The Daily Wildcat

Bull Fighter Dusty Tuckness performs at the Tucson rodeo. The event kicks off this weekend.

Cervi has competed in the Tucson Rodeo’s barrel race several times but has yet to win the event. She has placed second repeatedly in the past but is still looking to bring home the gold in her home arena.

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When not competing, Cervi inspires young barrel racers and hosts a youth championships rodeo each year in California. This year she wanted to bring the race closer to home, so she put together a youth championship program in Marana at the Wentz Point Arena this past January.

Over 300 contestants under the age of 18 came from all around Arizona and beyond to compete, and awards and scholarships were given to the winners. Cervi hopes to make the Marana youth championships an annual event as well.

“What I love about rodeo and being around horses is that it teaches you responsibility,” Cervi said. “You’ve got to go home and take care of your horses and practice and get better, and rodeo’s a really family-oriented sport.” 

Cervi will be competing in slack on Tuesday morning in order to qualify for further rounds of barrel racing taking place during the second weekend of the rodeo. She hopes that this will be the year she wins her hometown rodeo. She encourages the community to join the festivities and have a wonderful experience. 

Liess suggests anyone wanting to attend the second weekend should purchase their tickets online because the event does routinely sell out.

Tickets for general admission start at $15 and can be purchased online or at the gate. Prices do increase for the second weekend, based on the day and section. 


Follow Victoria Pereira on Twitter.

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