POCATELLO — Bannock County commissioners voted Tuesday not to allow the Idaho High School Rodeo Association to hold its state championships at the Bannock County Event Center in mid-June, according to Bannock County Commissioner Terrel Tovey.
He said the decision was the result of event organizers not presenting a comprehensive plan showing how they would meet the COVID-19 prevention guidelines outlined in Idaho Gov. Brad Little’s re-opening plan.
“They did not submit an actual plan,” Tovey said about the rodeo’s organizers. “They submitted a couple of bulleted highlights that were very vague.”
This does not mean the state rodeo competition has been canceled, only that it was stopped from happening at a Bannock County facility. The rodeo was scheduled to be held at the Bannock County Event Center June 13 through June 20.
The rodeo was one of two June events the Bannock County commissioners voted Tuesday against hosting at a county facility. The second rejected event, Priddaho, had the same fate for the same reason — a lack of an in-depth virus prevention plan, according to Tovey.
The second-annual Pocatello-based Priddaho, originally scheduled for June 13 at the Portneuf Wellness Complex, has a mission statement of “helping, teaching as well as learning about the cultures of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender straight and unidentified individuality.”
Priddaho Executive Director Travis Kerbs said the event will not be rescheduled this year and he sees its cancellation as the right thing to do, considering the recent COVID-19 death in Bannock County, the rising number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Southeast Idaho and the protests and riots currently happening across the country.
“The message we want to send out to the community is that it’s not one person’s fault. Nobody to get mad at,” Kerbs said about the commissioners’ rejection of this year’s Priddaho event.
Southeastern Idaho Public Health Director Maggie Mann recommended against holding either event, saying it is not the right time to host large gatherings locally that will attract many travelers from outside the region.
“Believe me, we don’t make those recommendations lightly,” Mann said. “We understand that those events are important to people, and any other time we would be in 100 percent support of those things happening. But we just don’t feel like it can happen safely right now.”
Bannock County has had 31 confirmed COVID-19 cases and had its first COVID-19 death on Sunday.
Tovey said the Pocatello Downs horse racing organizers are examples of people who successfully presented a way to meet the prevention guidelines related to COVID-19 and will host spectator-less horse races until further notice.
The Pocatello Downs horse track at the Bannock County Event Center will host its first races Wednesday thanks to the commissioners granting approval for the races to take place.
“(The horse race organizers) presented a full plan, a very comprehensive plan that addressed each and every one of those concerns. (Southeastern Idaho Public Health) gave it a go,” Tovey said about the horse races. “Those requirements, it met them and it’s a go and they are having their events.”
Unlike Pocatello Downs’ spectator-less horse races, the Idaho High School State Finals Rodeo was expected to draw a large number of attendees as one of the biggest annual events in East Idaho.
Idaho High School Rodeo Association President Matt Jones said the high school rodeo competition could still “possibly” be held, but he didn’t provide any possible locations or dates.
“I can understand where they’re coming from and their concerns are valid,” Jones said of the county commissioners’ decision regarding the rodeo. “Everything’s changing so much all the time now. I can’t say that I blame them. I know they’re in a tough spot just like we are.”
When asked if the association could run a safe rodeo during the pandemic, Jones said, “It could be done, but I think it would be extremely difficult.”
Tovey said the rodeo association could potentially have the event at the Bannock County Event Center at a later date if an acceptable virus prevention plan was presented.
“That would be up to them if they want to re-approach the commission for a different date,” Tovey said.
Kelly Duffin, Portneuf Rodeo Committee chairman and Highland/Poky/Century High Schools Rodeo Club adviser, expressed his displeasure regarding the county commissioners’ decision and is upset by the assumption that the rodeo cannot meet the COVID-19 prevention guidelines.
“I know it’s a tough decision. I feel for them. But they made the wrong decision. This rodeo is going to take place somewhere in this state,” Duffin said. “Don’t say, ‘Here are the recommendations, but we don’t think you can do that.’ What do you mean we can’t do that? Why can’t we?”
Tovey said when deciding whether to approve large events during the pandemic, the commissioners’ top priority is public safety.
“All of us want the economy and everything back open and everything rolling,” Tovey said. “We’re trying to make sure we protect our county.”