The Texas Junior High Rodeo Association (TJHRA) and Gonzales have had a long, beneficial history together that the city of Gonzales hopes will continue for many more years to come.
“We love when the rodeo comes to town,” City Manager Tim Patek said. “It is like a home away from home for them. They are here for 10 days and we try to make sure they get the best hospitality they can get and hope everyone has a safe and enjoyable event.”
Each May, hundreds of junior high students come to the confluence of the San Marcos and Guadalupe Rivers from all over the southwestern United States to compete in the TJHRA Texas state finals at JB Wells Park, Arena & Expo Center.
This year’s state finals will be held from May 22-28 and is going to be the biggest ever held, said TJHRA secretary Anne Dollery, with a record 525 contestants taking part in the event.
“This is the biggest one we’ve ever had,” Dollery said. “This year, we added a fifth grade division to the rodeo and we have filled nearly every event with contestants coming from all over Texas, New Mexico, Louisiana, Arkansas and Oklahoma. People will start to come in Friday from 8 a.m to 7 p.m. Then, on Saturday, we will open at 7 a.m. and be open 24 hours a day as some of our people, especially those coming from the Panhandle, like to come in middle of night to avoid the heat.
“Every single RV space is rented out and lots of motel rooms have been booked here in town. We have 888 possible stalls and have 885 of those rented out.”
Events scheduled include boys breakaway, boys goat tying, calf roping, chute dogging, girls breakaway, girls goat tying, pole bending, ribbon roping, rough stock, team roping and light rifle. The Top 10 contestants from each of the 10 regions in the state qualify for the state finals.
The top four in each event qualify to compete in the junior high national finals in Perry, Ga., on June 19-25.
Gonzales has become synonymous with TJHRA as the only city to serve as host site of the state finals. The city’s current contract with TJHRA expires after the 2023 finals, but the city has invested a great deal into JB Wells to convince the organization to spurn any would-be suitors and remain at its longtime home.
“Gonzales is the birthplace of junior high rodeo,” Dollery said. “When the junior high rodeo started, Gonzales offered to host it when no one else would and they stepped up and took it over and now it’s been here the past 15-16 years in a row. We run a live feed of the rodeo and get people from all over the state and the nation watching rodeo in Gonzales.
“Our people love it here. They love the green grass areas we have and they feel like their kids are safe on site.”
“We have had to make some improvements to the park,” Patek added. “We added another pad for stalls since the rodeo has added fifth grade this year. We also did a lot of work on the RV sites, adding base material. Last year, it rained and vehicles were getting stuck in the mud, but with the work the city and county crews have put in, that won’t happen this year. We have also changed out lighting in the park to make it even better and we hope that people will be pleased with what they see when they start arriving Friday.
“Our crews working their tails off to get ready for this and we have a lot of people who help to make sure we are ready for this event.”
Both Patek and Dollery noted the rodeo gives a big economic shot in the arm to the city and the county. As many as 1,500 to 2,500 more people are in the community, generating commerce for local businesses, creating additional sales tax revenue and helping sustain employment.
“It is a huge impact on the city of Gonzales,” said Dollery, who also ran the city’s parks and recreation department for five years. “My rule of thumb is that you have to take the 525 contestants who are going to be here and multiple by at least three and that is how many people are in our community, spending money at the grocery stores or in the local businesses.”
“It’s a big economic impact to the community,” Patek said. “We did a study back in 2018 and now you have to add the numbers up even more with inflation and how the price of everything has skyrocketed, especially as there have been supply chain issues in recent years.
“In 2018, we had an estimated economic impact from the state finals of about $341,000 in outside money coming into the community. That is probably closer to a half million dollars today when you factor in the cost of gas and food and everything going up.
“Hopefully everyone in the community can feel some of that, from our gas stations, to Walmart to HEB to our other businesses and restaurants,” Patek added. “We have a lot of people who bring in trailers with sleeping quarters and they buy their supplies when they get here. Sometimes they go out to eat in our restaurants and sometimes they eat at the campsite what they bought in our stores.”