The La Junta Kid's Rodeo is a longstanding tradition in the Arkansas Valley that has attracted young cowboys and cowgirls from near and far, including greats like Clyde Frost and Dick Yates.
Nobody appreciates the youth rodeo's rich history and legacy more than Kevin Waggoner, Chairman of the La Junta Kids Rodeo, and board member Teresa Walz.
"This is our 82nd year of the Kid's Rodeo, said Waggoner. "We are the oldest and the only consecutive kid's rodeo race meet in the world."
"My dad, Jack Crowder, was in the bronc riding at the very first kid's rodeo in 1938 in Potter Park," said Walz.
The Waggoner and the Crowder families each have four generations of kids rodeo participants, so for them it's a personal connection to their heritage and their family roots.
Jack Crowder recently turned 95 years old. Walz keeps a copy of the 1938 program as a memento. Prizes back then included a quart of ice cream, a neckerchief and a "cowboy shirt".
Though the rodeo ground's unique character still boasts a rugged and historic charm, an important upgrade is needed.
Since the event always happens in August, the hottest month of the year, Walz says a covered grandstand will be instrumental in the safety and comfort of the rodeo's loyal patrons and will attract more spectators to the arena.
"I think we can get more people if we can make it more comfortable for them," said Walz.
The City of La Junta owns the venue, and though they have contributed financially, the La Junta Kids Rodeo committee must do their part in "raising the roof".
Waggoner says a roof on the grandstands could benefit more than just the youth rodeo and race meet.
"If we get the roof over the grandstand, our facilities out there can be more multi-purpose," he said. "Maybe the city could have a concert out there."
Waggoner also stresses the importance of the rodeo event for local youth.
"Not all agriculture kids are able to go play baseball, football and basketball all summer long," he said. "This is an opportunity for them to come and enjoy their sport with their horses."
So far, the project has not been an easy feat and has already been many years in the making.
Putting a roof over the grandstand area requires plans drafted by an engineer. After 10 years, Waggoner was able to hire a local engineer for the project, and the plans have been signed and stamped.
Now they just need funding to see the construction through.
Walz, who is also the Rocky Ford FFA advisor, suggested a dinner and dance fundraiser featuring a popular live band, and her students jumped onboard for the cause, volunteering their time and effort.
"We have to change with the time and upgrade things ... but it's going to take a village," said Walz.
The Rocky Ford FFA Chapter will make the lasagna dinner and assist with other tasks associated with the fundraiser.
Waggoner hopes by holding an annual fundraiser, such as Raise the Roof, the committee can start making progress towards the roofing project.
"I'm pretty sure we're not going to get all the funds the first year," Waggoner said. "It may take us three, four or five. But the money we do get will gradually start paying for the roof over the grandstand."
Given the event's historical significance, Raise the Roof will be more than a fundraiser: It will be a reunion for locals who have participated in the Kids Rodeo over the decades.
The Raise the Roof fundraiser is scheduled to take place on April 13 at the La Junta Elks Lodge. The dinner will start at 6 p.m., and the dance will be from 8 p.m. to midnight.
The dance will feature live music by The Silver Eagle Band, a popular group that plays a wide genre of music.
Tickets are $15 for adults (price includes dinner and the dance), and $5 for kids ages 6 to 12.
Tickets may be purchased at La Junta Mill and from members of the Ace of Spades Roping Club and rodeo board members. Donations are also greatly appreciated.
For more information, contact Waggoner at 719-529-5365 or Walz at 719-248-1635.