ATLANTIC CITY - Fans enjoyed the Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo over the weekend.
Unfortunately for its organizers, there weren't more of them.
The event had a drop in its overall, three-day attendance of nearly 4,000 people from the inaugural event a year ago. Organizers were encouraged by last year's showing and had hoped for an increase this year.
"There wasn't growth, but we're thrilled with how the event has gone," said Janet Markowitz, the volunteer rodeo chairwoman. "I think we were hurt this year by the circus, which is in three weeks. If families were going to pick one or the other, they probably chose the circus."
The Barnum Bash circus will come to Boardwalk Hall later this month.
This weekend's three-day attendance total was 13,921, with Saturday's session drawing the biggest crowd (6,010). A sellout for the rodeo is considered 8,696. Last year's event drew a three-day total of 17,685.
However, Markowitz said she wasn't concerned with attendance numbers. She said she received two telephone calls Saturday from national sponsors, whom she declined to name yet, that want to be involved in next year's rodeo.
And there will be a next year - and a year after that, she said.
Markowitz already is working with officials from Boardwalk Hall and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, which sanctions the event, to get the best dates. The dates she has next year fall on Easter weekend, but those dates are not yet firm, she said.
"We'll get that worked out in the next week or so," Markowitz said. "In 2014, we got the dates we wanted."
Markowitz said she heard only positive reviews from fans. She said she ran into two rodeo fans who attended last year and came back this year with nine others.
This year, there was also more for fans to do on the concourse, from autograph signings to sales of authentic cowboy gear. One of the biggest attractions was the PRCA's Hall of Education. Showgoers learned about rodeo equipment and got to ask questions to learn more about the sport. Markowitz said she thought it was important for attendees to understand what they were seeing so they could appreciate it more.
"Each day I went up there, there was a line of people," she said. "They asked about things that could hurt. They let people touch and feel the equipment. People always fear the unknown and this way it was not terrible for them."
Children also got a few lessons in roping steers. Five-year-old Jonathan Viera seemingly has a career ahead of him as he lassoed a fake steer three straight times.
"When the kids got antsy from sitting in the seats, this was a good place to bring them because it's hands-on," said Jonathan's mother, Jessica Viera, 25, of Atlantic City. "They're having a lot of fun. It's something different for them.
However, it seemed the contestants had the most fun. There were 292 entries in seven events over the three days, making it the biggest rodeo on the East Coast, according to stock contractor John Barnes.
Some cowboys flew in from out West because the prize pool (approximately $94,000) was good and they had heard good things from others who participated in 2011.
Justin Yost, 23, came from a competition in Houston to enter the team-roping event Sunday. He didn't get to Atlantic City until about 10:30 Saturday night, but that didn't stop him from enjoying the sights.
Yost, who lives outside of Pittsburgh, hadn't been to Atlantic City since he was about 8 years old and didn't remember much of it. He'll remember this trip as he earned fifth place and $1,316.70.
"The night life is good here, the rodeo is good," Yost said. "I plan on coming back."
Yost said he would like to see the First Frontier Circuit Finals moved from Harrisburg, Pa., to Atlantic City. The First Frontier Circuit consists of rodeos held in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut, with the championships culminating in Harrisburg in January.
"The National Finals Rodeo are in Las Vegas every year," Yost said. "And this is like a mini-Vegas. I think a lot of guys would like to come here."
Trent Creager from Stillwater, Okla., was back for his second year in the Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo. He competed in team roping and tie-down roping. Creager took eighth place in tie-down roping to earn $419.78.
Creager also intends to come back to Atlantic City.
"This is a good rodeo. The money is good, the night life is good," Creager said with a smile. "I need to get out of here as soon as possible."
Contact Susan Lulgjuraj:
Bareback riding: 1. J.R. Vezain, 82; 2. Kaycee Feild, 81; 2. Matt Bright, 82; 4. Chris Harris, 80; 4. Joe Gunderson, 80; 4. Richie Champion, 80; 7. Josi Young, 79; 8. Yance Day, 78; 8. Heath Ford, 78; 8. Matthew Smith, 78.
Tie-down roping: 1. E.J. Roberts, 7.4; 2. Tyler Waters, 8.3; 3. Clint Cooper, 8.9; 4. Mike Johnson, 9.0; 4. Houston Hutto, 9.0; 6. Adam Gray, 9.2; 7. Kinney Dale Harrell, 9.4; 7. Trent Creager, 9.4.
Team roping: 1. Garret Tonozzi and Kinney Dale Harrell, 5.3; 2. Dustin Davis and Tyler McKnight, 6.1; 3. David Ballantyne and T.R. Serio, 6.4; 4. Joshua Torres and Jonathan Torres, 7.1; 5. Justin Yost and Kevin Brown, 7.2; 6. Carmine Nastri and Lewis Rimes Jr., 8.2; 7. Frankie Fernandez and Brice Laurence Stafford, 11.3; 8. Adam Rose and Kenny Brown 11.5.,
Saddle bronc riding: 1. Chuck Schmidt, 83; 2. Samuel Kelts, 78; 3. Sterling Crawley, 77; 4. Cort Scheer, 74; 4. Luke Butterfield, 74; 4. Cody DeMoss, 74; 7. Wes Burns, 71; 7. Cole Elshere, 71.
Steer wrestling: 1. Hunter Cure, 4.1; 2. Bray Armes, 4.5; 3. Josh Peek, 5.0; 4. Les Shepperson, 5.6; 4. Derek Stewart, 5.6; 6. Shayde Etherton, 6.5; 7. Tyler Pearson, 8.1; 8. Mike Cliver II, 8.8.
Barrel racing: 1. Incarnara Reo, 14.83; 2. Stassi Pyne, 14.87; 3. Jody Stockton, 14.99; 4. Kristine Roy, 15.01; 5. Nickie Stoltzfus, 15.07; 6. Robin Weaver, 15.13; 7. Judy Dehoda, 15.18; 8. Nancy Nelson, 15.24; 8. Tammi Pettis, 15.24; 10. April Masterson, 15.26; 11. Jayme Edwards, 15.37; 12. Jennifer Oberg, 15.45.
Bull riding: 1. Ty Hamaker, 88; 2. Cole Echols, 86; 3. Cody Rostockyj, 81; 4. Christopher Tejero, 77; 4. Garrett Vig, 77; 6. Tag Elliott, 72; 6. Austin Ambrose, 72; 8. Chris Roundy, 69.