It bears repeating each year that rodeo fills a unique niche in the pantheon of American professional sports — it’s the one still rooted in its small-town, rural origins.

Typically the highest level competitions of any professional sport are found in large cities. It makes sense because there are more people in cities, to fill the large stadiums and generate enormous revenue.

While rodeo has its big-stage moments — the National Finals Rodeo is held in Las Vegas, after all — to get to that big stage the competitors need to travel to and compete in small towns and cities across the nation.

The Ellensburg Rodeo is a critical part of that circuit because it is the last rodeo where money can be earned to qualify competitors for the NFR.

There are no guaranteed contracts in rodeo. It is not an exaggeration to say the athletes put their careers (and bodies) on the line with each performance.

That plays into the deep connection between rodeo fans and rodeo competitors. It is impossible to not root for someone who risks so much.

Over the course of the weekend — culminating with the finals on Monday — fans will watch the best rodeo athletes in the world compete in the Ellensburg Rodeo Arena. It is pretty amazing to think about, even if it does happen every year.

The rodeo does not take place every year by chance or because it is the traditional thing to do — it happens because volunteers work year round to make sure it occurs.

You don’t see this in other professional sports. Seahawks home games are not contingent on a volunteer organization making sure the field is striped and all the water bottles on the sidelines are filled every Sunday.

Rodeo is your classic “of the people, for the people” sport. Periodically, someone will ask if the sport can continue to survive in this manner in an era of high-gloss sports aimed primarily at upper income fans — where a “game experience” can easily cost a family of four $250-plus once a hotdog or two is purchased — but rodeo shakes off those questions and survives.

Ellensburg is a lot of things — it’s a college town, it’s a historic town — and it’s a rodeo town. By the time rodeo athletes get to Ellensburg they have seen much of rural America, competing in rodeos far and wide. They all seem to look forward to arriving in Ellensburg, not just because it’s a shot at making decent money, but because it is a town that celebrates the sport.

Rodeo is part of our Labor Day and seasonal traditional to the start of the school year (hopefully) and the pending return of Central Washington University students. It is a fantastic way to turn the page.

Enjoy the rodeo this weekend.

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