Tony Barrinton of Elko, Nev., makes an 84-point bareback ride during the 2019 Omak Stampede.

OMAK – Coronavirus continues to take its toll on local festivals, celebrations and activities as leaders of the Omak Stampede and associated events announced cancellation for 2020.

Omak Stampede Inc., the Suicide Race Owners and Jockeys Association, Omak Stampede Indian Encampment and City of Omak agreed the 87th event should not be held, the groups announced May 19. This year would have been the 85th anniversary of the Suicide Race.

“Each of us came together with our many concerns and considerations for our community, sponsors and patrons,” said a Stampede announcement. “We feel that with uncertainty within the state we cannot provide the world-class show that we pride ourselves in.”

Stampede facilities are closed to the public and travelers.

“It’s a damn shame,” said Omak City Administrator Todd McDaniel.

“It is disappointing for the community to have one of the marquee tourist events of our county canceled,” said Okanogan County Sheriff Tony Hawley. “Many businesses depend on this event and the economic boost it brings. This year, more than ever, the loss of tourism and traditions focused around the Omak Stampede and other community events will be felt.

“I would expect it to be a much quieter weekend for law enforcement activity, though.”

Health and safety factored into the decision, as did monetary aspects, said Stampede Office Manager Sarah Grooms, who has been laid off from her paid position but continues with the organization as a volunteer.

Given the possibility that crowd size would be restricted to maintain social distancing, Stampede directors didn’t feel they could put on the four-day rodeo and make money. Social distancing in the carnival area would mean one person per ride car, with cleaning required after each ride.

“We’d have to spray down the stands and bathrooms” after each performance and require people to maintain a six-foot buffer, she said. “We couldn’t absorb it” financially.

With that scenario, Stampede directors they could forge ahead and lose money or call off the event and come back in 2021. Financially, the organization can make it through the winter, she said.

“We’re able to cancel our event and be OK,” she said. And, in response to some comments left on social media pages accusing Stampede of giving in, she added, “We’re not caving. It’s business.”

Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association judges have been notified, Grooms said. The organization is aware that some areas aren’t yet open for public events – some other rodeos, including the Calgary Stampede and Hermiston Farm-City Pro Rodeo – also have canceled this year’s shows.

Contract acts, including clown/barrel man J.J. Harrison, a former Okanogan resident, “aren’t holding us to their contracts,” she said, adding that most of the performers have been coming to Stampede for years.

“I know that this is disappointing for my hometown,” wrote Harrison on social media. “From the economic impact it will have to the loss of just a really good time, losing the Stampede just sucks. I hope everyone understands why it is a necessity and supports local businesses and the Stampede in 2021.

“Stay healthy and enjoy that amazing Okanogan Valley.”

Grooms said Stampede is issuing ticket refunds to those who have purchased tickets already and request their money back.

Vendors usually don’t pay for their spaces until July and sponsors haven’t yet paid. Grooms said the organization also feels for local businesses who are sponsors because they’re hurting financially, too.

“We felt it was wrong to ask for money from people who don’t have it,” she said.

The Suicide Race Owners and Jockeys Association also had concerns about sponsors. When the decision was made to scrap this year’s events, the association hadn’t had any sponsors confirm support yet, Grooms said.

The Omak Stampede Indian Encampment also is canceled.

McDaniel said the city will take a financial hit because of the cancellation.

“At this point I’m expecting to see about an $80,000 shortfall in revenue associated with the cancellation of the 2020 Stampede,” he said. “The bulk of the revenue is from admission tax, royalties and loss of RV park rental.”

Almost all expenditures for the event are borne by Stampede, the Owners and Jockeys Association, Indian encampment organization and other community-based groups, he said.

Grooms said Stampede pays an admission tax and royalty on every seat sold. Other organizations that use the arena pay a rental fee or admission tax if admission payments exceed $10,000.

The city also owes money to the state on a loan taken out to replace the arena in 2009. Grooms said she’d like to see the state forgive any payments due.

Grooms said Miss Omak Stampede Shelby White has been invited to serve another year, but hasn’t yet given rodeo officials her answer.

Previously, the only time the Omak Stampede was canceled was during World War II. In June 1943, The Chronicle reported that the Omak Stampede Association decided it would “out of place” to hold the event during war times. No more events were held until the war ended.

No queens were selected in 1943, 1944 or 1945.

A group unrelated to the Stampede association was granted permission later that summer to have a Labor Day rodeo.

In 1999, in the midst of controversy over how East Side Park should be used, the Suicide Race and encampment were canceled. Both events were back the next year.

Last week, organizing groups for the events said they would continue to monitor the pandemic situation “and re-evaluate at a later date to see if we can hold some kind of event in the fall of this year.”

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