High School Rodeo: Labors of Love
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High School Rodeo

Ann Sundermann has been the Executive Secretary of the South Dakota High School Rodeo Association (SDHSRA) for 14 years. Sundermann and her husband live near Baltic, SD, where they farm, raise cattle and horses, and run a manufacturing business.

SDHSRA activities are largely volunteer run. The only full-time paid staffer, Sundermann helps coordinate 14 volunteer board directors, three host committee members, and between 50 to 100 volunteers who get over 300 state finals contestants up and running every June, as well as pitch in for the care and feeding of hundreds of horses, stock animals, family, and fans.

Katy Beem: What does it take to get high school rodeo events off the ground?

Ann Sundermann: “The SDHSRA board of directors and the host committee members are, I would say, your full-time volunteers. They plan everything, including the finals, but also the association rules, regulations, and any other events. All the directors’ spouses usually help in some way. The South Dakota Rodeo Association (SDRA), put on a fall rodeo for the kids. At the Black Hills Stock Show, the Suttons put on the high school extreme rodeo for the kids. State finals, of course, takes the most volunteers, and the host committee coordinates a lot of those volunteers. The SDHSRA gets a lot of volunteers as well.”

KB: Where do your volunteer recruits come from?

AS: “We all have our own bank of people if we need help for things. For registration, for gate-running. A person I think is amazing and has always helped run the gate in Belle Fourche, since finals have been there, is Mel Schmidt. She is out there in the heat of the sun and wind, from moon to moon. Mel calls on people willing to help. I’ve got my own little bank of people. The host committee folks, they recruit to be arena cleaners, bring the hay in, all the behind the scenes stuff.”

KB: Give us a sense of the volunteer time commitment involved with rodeo finals.

AS: “I and another office worker arrive Sunday, the week before to start getting ready. Directors and host committee members arrive Monday to start setting up the arena, getting all the banners hung, prepping everything. South Dakota Farmers Union provides a kickoff meal and giveaway prizes. Everybody stays through the short go for sure. And then there’s some clean up, of course, that needs to be done afterwards. The national meeting and breakfast are held Sunday morning. The last of us leave Sunday afternoon.”

KB: And everyone hunkers down at the grounds?

AS: “The majority of our contestants and their families camp on the grounds, in their horse trailers, so they can be by their horses who are in stalls or pens they put up. Belle Fourche has beautiful grounds and a lot of room. People in the rodeo world tend to have their little encampments. They’ll circle trailers, have a fire at night, cook together, cheer each other on, help each other out. It’s kind of like living in little neighborhoods throughout the grounds.”

KB: Long, hot days and camping at night. What do you think the volunteers get out of volunteering?

AS: “It’s kind of in their blood. I would have a hard time going to a rodeo and not just stepping in somewhere where it was needed. It’s probably that way in a lot of organizations, whether your passion be rodeo, basketball, softball. They just feel good about helping. They’ll do anything for the kids. And rodeo families will do anything they can to help their neighbor compete. Even though their own kid is competing against them. If a horse gets sick, or their equipment breaks, they’ll let them use theirs. Even though that might risk their own kid’s competition.”

KB: The state finals move to Fort Pierre next year. What has it meant for Belle Fourche to host it since 2006?

AS: “Belle Fourche has been wonderful. City employees, everyone, they have gone above and beyond to make it a good event for the kids. Each year when the state finals bids come up, for many years we’ve not had anybody else interested. This year we did have bids from other towns. So, we’re going to put on the best finals that everybody can for the kids and athletes this year in Belle Fourche. After that we’ll focus on the future.”