A sunny Saturday afternoon in March

The Lincoln Rodeo Grounds – a community treasure

Check out rodeo this weekend and May 5-6
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As a city kid born and raised in San Francisco, I never rode a horse that didn’t require inserting a quarter first and I never owned a pair of cowboy boots. 

However, I did grow up in the Visitacion Valley area of San Francisco in the shadow of the Cow Palace and spent lots of hours watching both the Grand National Exposition and the Junior Grand National rodeos.  The events featured young people in 4H jackets with names of places I had never heard of, like Tracy, Turlock, Loomis and Lincoln.  Little did I know then that someday I would move to the city of Lincoln, and within close proximity to the Lincoln High Rodeo complex, which is truly a community treasure.

On the day of an event, you will see everybody from toddlers to teens to grandpa and grandma in a parking lot crammed with recreational vehicles, trailers and more pickup trucks than one can count.  

I suggest that you walk carefully on your way to the grandstand area since horses also use the common area.  The grandstand area is somewhat dated and can use a little tender, loving care but the stands offer you an excellent view of the arena. 

At the entrance, you will also see picnic tables and a snack bar area staffed by volunteers. A cheerful individual named Sonny mans the busy barbecue filling orders from the adjacent snack bar area.  People are chatting, laughing, and obviously enjoying the relaxed atmosphere while keeping one eye on the arena and listening to the event announcements. 

Outside the arena, you will see the teenage event participants lining up with the event-identifying numbers neatly pinned on their backs.  Surprisingly, although this event has been present for more than 70 years in Lincoln, it remains a community “best kept secret.”  Hopefully, this article might just stimulate the reader to select a day and enjoy an experience watching some very talented young people exercise their skills.

Like any large organized event involving young people, there is a small army of parents and friends volunteering countless hours to make it a success.  In this case, it is District 3 of the California High School Rodeo Association.  A free program is available in the grandstand area describing the day’s events and the participants in each activity.

Seated comfortably in the stands during my Saturday afternoon visit was Michael Rue, who was born and raised in Wheatland and has spent his life ranching in Rio Oso.  Michael was waiting to see his granddaughter Hanna O’ Connor, a student at East Nicolaus High School, participate in the team roping, breakdown roping and barrel racing events.  Michael is obviously pleased that his love for animals and for rodeo activities has been passed on to another generation.


History is sketchy concerning the rodeo grounds

Years ago, an unidentified Lincoln family donated a 145-acre piece of property for use as a community rodeo grounds.  Local historians have encountered some difficulty in finding detailed information on the date the facility was constructed.  At that time, the property was located “way on the south side of town.” The land grant reportedly included a clause that the site would be dedicated in perpetuity to this purpose, unless another suitable site was acquired in the transfer. 

In 1947 legal papers were filed with the state of California listing the Lincoln Riders Club as the agency designated to administer the operation of the rodeo facility.  Local attorney Gerald Langle is currently listed as the Chief Executive Officer for the organization.  In subsequent years, the Lincoln Volunteer Fire Department and the Lincoln Host Lions Club reportedly played a role in sponsoring local rodeo events at the facility.   

Little did anybody realize that eventually the facility would be located adjacent to a large residential retirement community on one side, a neighborhood shopping center on the other, and within a stones throw of a freeway off-ramp serving as an entryway to downtown Lincoln - but it happened that way.    


California High School Rodeo Association District Number 3

In 1970, the California High School Rodeo Association (CHSRA) was formed and divided into nine districts covering the 58 counties in the state.  District Number 3, known as “The Thundering #3,” encompasses nine Northern California counties (Placer, Yuba, Nevada, Sutter, Yolo, Sacramento, El Dorado, Sierra and Solano) and a 2.8-million resident population.  Events for the organization are classed in Junior Division covering sixth-through eighth-grades, and Senior Division for ninth- through 12th-grades.  There are events for both boys and girls and each participant must be currently enrolled in school with passing academic grades.

Organizational goals include teaching leadership, promoting education and encouraging family values.  Eight rodeos are held annually in each district.  Rodeo events include goat tying, chute dogging, tie-down roping, team roping, barrel racing, pole- bending, and bull-riding.  Scholarships are awarded in each district and points earned in various events are used to determine the participants eligible to compete in the state finals held in Bishop CA in June.

The Board of Directors for District Number 3 is led by President Russ Biglow and is comprised of 20-plus board members and committee chairs.  The officers are included, along with lots of rodeo information and photographs in the very impressive District Number 3 website, Russ has 20 years of experience with the high school rodeo circuit as his children have been active participants. 

According to Russ, the Lincoln facility may be somewhat dated and limited in its amenities but it has been a great place to hold their district rodeos.  It is the only district facility that does not charge for RV hookups, stalling, parking and admission, and that allows many families to participate in the event.  Well over 20 volunteers are kept busy on the weekend doing everything from operating the water truck to staffing the snack bar. 

“Fortunately, we are blessed with lots of parents who are willing to assist as necessary to make each event a success,” Russ said. “The spirit of volunteerism is what our entire program is about.  We would love to see Lincoln residents come out to our two remaining rodeos to see our kids in action.”

For the past 10 years, Dennis and Kathy Prendergast have served as enthusiastic volunteers for the Lincoln Rodeo.  Dennis played an active role in seeking sponsors and advertising for the events and Kathy served as the official District Number 3 photographer. 

The Prendergasts were introduced to rodeo activities by a mutual friend and quickly developed an affinity for the qualities they saw in the young performers.  Kathy described the rodeo participants as a great group of young kids and family members.  “The kids clearly demonstrate their love of animals and engage in teamwork while participating in the various activities,” she said. 


Pleasant memories and current importance

Retired teacher and community historian Shirley Russell has some fond early memories concerning the Lincoln Rodeo.  Shirley’s father, Will “Frank” Farnsworth, a proud Lincoln Rotarian, owned the Farnsworth Mortuary at 4th and H streets.  There was no official ambulance available in Lincoln and ambulance service was provided via local morticians.  As a public service, Frank would take his ambulance out to the rodeo in the event of an injury during the competition.  Shirley was thrilled when her dad asked if she wanted to go see a rodeo and her reply was an enthusiastic “Yes.”

Local businessman Primo Santini also has fond memories of the rodeo going back to the early 1960s. 

“At that time, we were a town of about 2,500 people and the rodeo grounds represented a bike ride to the very south end of town,” Primo said. “There were also adult rodeo performances at that time and they were very popular too.  As youngsters, we loved watching everything from the calf roping to the Brahma bull riding.  The rodeo definitely represents an important part of our history here in Lincoln.”

Mayor Stan Nader grew up with the rodeo in Lincoln. 

“Residents frequently express a concern that, while Lincoln is a growing community,” Stan said, “we need to maintain that small town feeling.  The rodeo grounds and the activities there do just that.  It is a part of our history and we definitely want to see it as a part of our community’s future.”

Al Roten, a former member of the Economic Development Committee for the city of Lincoln, sees the rodeo activity as a community asset.  He described it as “a family-oriented program bringing together parents and young people with pride in accomplishment and with free admission”

Shawn Tillman, Economic Development manager for the city of Lincoln, also places a definite value on the rodeo grounds a positive addition to our community.  

“During the weekends, when the rodeo is in session, the grounds are packed with out-of-town visitors,” Shawn said. “They are impactful on our businesses and restaurants so it represents a definite asset to our city.”

Would you like to see a rodeo performance?

If you would like to take advantage of an opportunity to watch young people engage in a variety of challenging rodeo activities, mark your calendars now for the two remaining events for this rodeo season.  The dates are District Number 3 Rodeo 7 this Saturday and Sunday and District Number 3 Rodeo 8 on May 5 and May 6.

I hope you can join them for an enjoyable day.  Ride ‘em cowboys and cowgirls too.