A rider tries to make the eight second mark as his bronc tries his best to buck him off during the Labor Day Rodeo at the Santa Cruz Fairgrounds.
Photo by Sally Reichardt

The Sonoita Labor Day Rodeo returned for its 108th edition beneath a cotton-candy sky, with over 4,500 spectators and more than 700 cowboys and cowgirls taking part in the annual Labor Day weekend event. 

While some early arrivers took advantage of the plentiful food and drink options – wood-fired pizza, tacos, hot dogs, a fully stocked bar – others saw an opportunity to shop for all things western. Leather belts/purses, T-shirts, boots, and, of course, long sleeve snap button shirts, a wistful nod to cooler temperatures, were just some of the wares at this year’s event. All totaled, 78 vendors were present for the Sept. 2-4 rodeo.

“Contestants were happy. Spectators were happy. Everyone was happy,” said Tiffany George, rodeo co-chair.

Among those prowling the fairgrounds after the 10 a.m. Saturday gate opening were three generations of the La Turco clan from Tucson and Chandler. The rodeo is a tradition in their family, and this year the visit included two-year-old Lia. And yes, it was her first rodeo. 

“It’s a family affair,” said Benjamin La Turco Sr., adding that they take in about four rodeos a year. “This is a great rodeo. What makes it great is it brings in so many people from smaller communities. Tucson to Nogales, Three Points, Douglas. It brings a lot of people from Southern Arizona together. That’s what I love about it.”

While the La Turco clan’s four kids showed an early preference for ice cream, Cierra Foragh and Bethany Marcott, also from Tucson, kicked-off their rodeo experience with elote. Foragh noted that “just getting out of the city” was reason enough for visiting “the best little rodeo in Arizona.”

Before the show got underway in the arena, buzz on the ground was to watch the ride of Angel Garcia Nunez from Tucson. Not because this was his first rodeo – actually it was his second. But because Nunez would be the first blind participant in the Sonoita rodeo’s bareback riding event. 

“That’s why there is so many media here,” a rodeo volunteer offered. 

Nunez’s ride would be short – just a couple seconds. Even so, the crowd showed their appreciation with a loud round of applause.

While contestants and spectators are the lifeblood of the rodeo, the unsung heroes are its volunteers. And this year 123 individuals donated time over the three days to make sure all went smoothly, according to Lacy Beyer, manager of the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds. Beyer noted that the volunteer number does not include those serving on committees.

The event was accident free until the last ride of the last event of the last day (Monday, Sept. 4). That’s when bullfighter Cody Escobedo of Gilbert, AZ, suffered a broken leg and was treated on the scene by members of the Sonoita-Elgin Fire District.

Monies raised from the annual Labor Day event go for rodeo ground upkeep.