ATLANTIC CITY — Organizing a brand-new event for thousands of people is tough. Topping it the second year can be even more difficult.
That’s what Margate resident Janet Markowitz has found out as she prepares for the Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo next weekend.
Markowitz, the volunteer rodeo chairwoman, said not many people believed the event would succeed last year. When it did, drawing more than 17,000 people to Boardwalk Hall over three days, she knew the bar had been set.
“This year, people had expectations,” Markowitz, 59, said Wednesday during a short break from a busy schedule that included running errands for the rodeo and working at her shop, Chester’s Plants & Flowers in Atlantic City. “The minute last year was over, I thought, ‘What can we do next year?’”
For the past few weeks, Markowitz has done some of the same things as last year, whether it was getting the dirt from a spot in Marmora or holding an instructional event for children Friday at the Atlantic Riding Center for Health in Egg Harbor Township featuring rodeo cowboy Guy Collins, of Buena Vista Township.
But there are new things, too. Markowitz has organized a rodeo-themed golf tournament for Thursday that will be the first time ever that Atlantic City Country Club will allow golfers to wear jeans. There will be a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association day camp Saturday to teach children about the rodeo, and a PRCA Hall of Education set up on the concourse at the rodeo, with PRCA official Cindy Schonholtz on hand to answer questions about animal welfare.
Markowitz also is working to get Pro Rodeo Gear, the official outfitter of the PRCA, to set up a truck outside the arena with authentic merchandise.
Stock contractor John Barnes, whose family has held rodeos across the country for more than 60 years, said this will be the first time that the rodeo day camp, the Hall of Education and the Pro Rodeo Gear stand have all been at the same rodeo.
“It’s very simple,” Barnes said in a phone interview Thursday. “Last year was a year for everybody to understand what the rodeo is — Janet included. Now, everyone’s starting to realize how exciting the rodeo can be.”
With the excitement, however, comes pressure.
Markowitz said she frequently wakes up in the middle of the night in a panic about something she might have forgotten. On Tuesday night, she woke up at 3 a.m. and realized she had only ordered one banner for a sponsor who had requested two, so she stayed up until 8 a.m., when she could call to place another order.
“Not that I can do anything about it at 3 o’clock in the morning, but I stayed awake so that was the first phone call I made in the morning,” she said.
“You know how they say ignorance is bliss? I think because I was pretty ignorant (last year), I was a little bit calmer. This year, I’m a little more crazy.”
Markowitz has more help this year, though.
Last year’s rodeo was funded by a rare collaboration of every Atlantic City casino. They’re all back in the fold this year, with Golden Nugget Atlantic City and Revel even joining the effort.
The casinos’ involvement goes beyond funding this year, though. Several of them will feature rodeo-themed deals at their hotels.
Resorts Casino Hotel will have the famous “Naked Cowboy” from New York on Friday night and a rodeo after-party Saturday night featuring Dean Simmons’ Garth Brooks Tribute. Tropicana Casino and Resort will have an autograph session Saturday afternoon in The Quarter with three former Miss Rodeo Americas and former world champion bull rider Butch Kirby, of Woodstown, Salem County.
“All the casinos have somebody doing things, which is really exciting,” Markowitz said.
At the actual rodeo, the winner of each event each night will come up to the concourse afterward and sit at a table signing autographs. Other cowboys will sign autographs on the floor at the end of the night.
“This year, now it’s more of, ‘Can we get the fans included where they feel more like a part of the rodeo themselves?’” Barnes said. “The biggest thing that Janet is trying for is that the fans aren’t outside looking in. The fans need to be in the rodeo themselves and understand it and enjoy it.”
All the new features mean more work for Markowitz, who doesn’t get paid for her rodeo duties and still has her own business to run.
“This year was really hard. I really thought that this was going to be a walk in the park this year, because you kind of get that ... ‘Oh, I’ve done that so I can do that,’” she said. “All of a sudden, this is really hard, to make it fresh, keep it exciting, make sure we’ve got great cowboys.”
Still, she doesn’t plan on passing the job to anyone else in the near future.
“I have no life,” Markowitz said. “I work seven days a week, 365 days a year. So I’m pretending that this is my hobby. And I like it.
“It’s very exciting,” she added. “I can’t wait. I’m at that point now where I just want it to get started.”
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