Rodeo championships bring $16 million impact, exposure for Lincoln

LINCOLN, NE — The nation’s top high school rodeo stars are riding around Lincoln.

And there’s a lot of them. In fact, there’s more than 1600 competitors who brought family and friends with them. Plus, there’s fans filling the stands from nearby and far away for the week-long National High School Finals Rodeo.

A massive event means massive dollars for the area.

“The economic impact just in Lincoln and Lancaster County is estimated at $16 million and it’s going to be awful hard to track as you get further out into the state, what was spent at the gas stations, restaurants, hotels as people made their way from all around,” Hoyt Kraeger said.

The Lancaster Event Center is hosting the annual event. Business Development Manager Hoyt Kraeger says the venue has been working on the project for five years. He says staff is starting to exhale after getting the week started last Saturday.

“Midway through is just fantastic," Kraeger said. "I mean, we’ve done it. It’s not over yet, but we’ve done it to this point and we’re going to finish this out and finish strong.”

For competitors, it’s the biggest showcase of their rodeo lives.

“I think I started riding horses when I was a baby,” participant Dylan Dobbs said.

17-year-old Dylan Dobbs of Arkansas is competing in barrels and poles and is running for office in the rodeo association’s student board. She says she’s spent countless hours preparing for her 20 seconds in the ring.

“(Competing is) amazing, I mean the adrenaline gets so high you don’t remember anything about it after but it’s all worth it in the end,” Dobbs said.

Participants come from 43 states, five Canadian provinces and Mexico… but there are some Nebraskans like Jenae Whitaker of Chambers and Jessica Stevens of Creighton.

No matter where they call home, Kraeger says he hopes visitors feel welcomed in Nebraska.

“I want them to leave knowing that… Nebraska is a rodeo state they can come and compete in throughout the rest of their rodeo careers," Kraeger said. "Whether it’s coming to an amateur rodeo in the state or any of the professional rodeos that we have, (we want them to know) that Nebraska is a great place to visit.”

The National High School Finals Rodeo finishes on Saturday with final events and the crowning of world champions.

Kraeger says the event wouldn't be possible without an army of local volunteers. He says they were especially helpful with cleaning up after last week's wind storm.