By James Beaty
The McAlester News-Capital
February 2, 2010
For 69 years, McAlester has hosted the annual Oklahoma State Penitentiary Prison Rodeo, held in an arena behind prison walls at Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Now, the decision to cancel this year’s rodeo has left many of those involved saying they are disappointed and frustrated.
Both the Oklahoma Department of Corrections and the McAlester Chamber of Commerce were involved in the decision, according to personnel on both sides.
This year’s rodeo, which has traditionally been held in late August or early September, would have been the 70th for the event. The rodeo has drawn spectators from not only around the United States, but from other nations as well.
“I can only say I’m disappointed,” OSP Warden Randy Workman said when asked about the cancellation of this year’s rodeo.
Asked who made the decision, Workman said “It involved the director, as well as this facility and the Chamber.”
Workman said the DOC couldn’t support having a rodeo this year at this point in time “because of funding, because of staffing and because of medical costs.”
Workman noted that the DOC has had budget and staffing difficulties and he said there are always medical costs associated with having the rodeo, due to injuries.
Workman said if the Chamber wants to use the prison’s arena for other events, such as an International Professional Rodeo Association rodeo, a concert, or Bullnanza, then it’s welcome to do so.
Those events are “Something that wouldn’t have to involve the staff” or involve the inmates, he said.
Asked if a video recently posted on You Tube concerning a horse injuring two of its legs during one of the OSP prison rodeos had any bearing on the decision to cancel this year’s event, Workman said absolutely not.
Workman said the injury in question had not occurred during any of the years he has worked as warden or deputy warden at OSP.
He said he believes the video is several years old, since the it shows maximum-security inmates watching the rodeo from the audience. The warden said maximum-security prisoners have not been allowed to attend the rodeo in several years.
Workman said the rodeo now also makes it a point to have a veterinarian on hand, in case of animal injuries.
McAlester Chamber of Commerce Director Karen Stephens also said not holding the rodeo this year is disappointing.
Stephens also released a statement saying “We’re currently planning a benefit concert featuring a nationally known singing talent. I can’t discuss the talent we’re bringing in yet, but I will say — we’re very excited.”
Plans call for proceeds from a concert to be used to maintain and upgrade the rodeo facility for future rodeos, according to Stephens.
Asked on Monday if a major artist had actually been signed for a benefit concert, Stephens said “There is no one signed.
“We’re working on that,” Stephens said, adding that a committee plans to hold its next meeting on Feb. 18 to try and arrange a concert.
McAlester Mayor Kevin Priddle also expressed his disappointment at the loss of the rodeo.
“I’m extremely disappointed that after 70 years, they have decided not to have the rodeo due to budget restraints and personnel shortages at the Department of Corrections,” he said.
It takes a certain number of correctional officers to move inmate teams from other facilities around the state to OSP and to have them on-site for the duration of the rodeo, he noted.
“My sincere hope is this will resume next year after the DOC gets funding for its operation as a whole.
“We had the best rodeo we’ve ever had last year,” Priddle said.
The mayor also said “It’s a lot easier to stop something than to restart it. However, the Chamber and the bodies involved hope we can rebuild this year with a big-name concert to help us rebuild and refurbish.
“Hopefully, the rodeo will be back next year, bigger and better than ever.”
Workman left the door slightly open to go ahead and have a rodeo this year — but only slightly.
“I really regret not having the rodeo,” Workman said.
“I would not want to put out false hope. I’m not going to say it couldn’t happen, but right now there are no plans to have it.”
Holding a fund-raising concert would not help the rodeo occur this year, he said.
“All it would do is take the place of the rodeo,” Workman said.
Workman said he recognizes what the loss of the rodeo means.
“It’s an impact on McAlester and the department as a whole,” he said.