By Paula Sophia
OKLAHOMA CITY- Recently Phil Roder was in a bar trying to garner support for the upcoming Great Plains Rodeo to be held on Memorial Day weekend from Friday May 23rd through Sunday May 25th at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds. While giving his spiel about the rodeo a well-meaning voice spoke up, "Well doesn't the rodeo just take care of itself? It's such a popular event."
Phil Roder, the new Director of the Oklahoma Gay Rodeo Association (OGRA), suddenly felt restrained by his role as the public face of the OGRA. He wanted to let the guy have it really bad, but he chose to educate him instead.
In recent years the OGRA has fallen away from public view. Though the Great Plains Rodeo held annually in Oklahoma City has continued to be a success there has been some behind the scenes strife. The infighting had resulted in the loss of OGRA membership which ultimately threatens the future of one of the biggest events in the Oklahoma City glbt community.
"The Great Plains Rodeo is probably the gay community's second biggest event, second to the Oklahoma City Pride Parade," Roder said. "It has become a tradition."
The trouble with the OGRA has not been attendance problems but organization problems. It got to the point last year where the executive board and only about two members were attending the organizational meetings. As such they were making decisions that affected a whole range of people but with a very limited vision. Additionally, the bulk of the organizational work was being done by a precious few people who began to suffer burnout.
"The Great Plains Rodeo has entered a new era," Roder said. "We are trying to get more and more people involved, and people are starting to come back." Thus the motto of this year's rodeo is The New Beginning.
When Roder had taken over the reigns of the organization he heard cynical voices telling him that there wasn't much business support for the rodeo anymore. However, once he launched himself into the project of raising the money that makes the rodeo possible he found a whole different attitude.
"I have found tremendous support this year. People are as excited as ever," Roder mused. "The IGRA (International Gay Rodeo Association) has also been phenomenal. It's like, hey, welcome back."
The IGRA is the larger framework in which the Great Plains Rodeo operates. The IGRA encompasses 22 associations representing 25 of the United States, the District of Columbia and 4 Canadian Provinces. The OGRA was the first association seated by the IGRA in 1985 at the first ever IGRA convention. Since then the OGRA has become one of the fixtures in Oklahoma's glbt community. The Great Plains Rodeo is the 3rd largest event in the IGRA rodeo series.
The IGRA is gaining new venues including Ft. Worth, Texas and Tulsa, Oklahoma. "The IGRA finals will be held in Tulsa this year in Tulsa's first ever gay rodeo October 23rd through 26th, 2003."
This year's events at the Great Plains Rodeo include the whole spectrum of rodeo fare: bareback bronco riding, bull riding, breakaway roping, barrel racing and many other events. Additionally, there will be goat dressing, a special OGRA event where a team tries to place a pair of underwear on an unsuspecting goat. One of the most popular events will be the Wild Drag Race where a man, a woman and a drag queen try to drag a steer across a finish line. The event starts with the team at the starting line where they run to the steer and mount the drag queen on top. The man and woman then drag the steer back across the line keeping the drag queen mounted. It is hilarious fun!
On Friday May 23rd registration will begin at 6 pm and end at 9 pm at the host hotel, the Holiday Inn at 6200 N. Robinson near NW 63rd and Broadway Extension. From 9 pm to 1 am, the OGRA will host the Sooner Twister Party and Dance free to the public.
On Saturday May 24th, the first round of the rodeo will begin at 9 am with Calf Roping on Foot followed by the remaining events. At noon the OGRA will present The Grand Entry. The second round of events will start on Sunday May 25th and run throughout the day ending with the Contestant Award Ceremony. A Sooner Sendoff Party will be held at the host hotel starting at 8 pm.
Tickets for the Great Plains Rodeo are $15 per day, Saturday and Sunday. The Sooner Twister Party and the Sooner Sendoff Party are free. For more information and tickets please contact OGRA at 405-206 9215 or PRCowboy@hotmail.com. Tickets will also be available at the gate.
Phil Roder pointed to some of the awards and certificates hanging on the wall of the OGRA office. "I want to see more of those in our future. I want to become a more vital part of the community," he said. He outlined plans to make donations to various charities to be announced later. In the past the OGRA contributed funds to organizations devoted to fighting cancer, to programs to help children and their families, to help rehabilitate drug addicts and alcoholics and to help comfort those suffering from and living with HIV / AIDS.
The OGRA would also like to announce their 20th anniversary as an organization dedicated to hosting venues for glbt cowboys and cowgirls. "Because this is our: 20th year we want to make the 18th annual Great Plains Rodeo something special. The whole point is to provide everyone involved a good time," Roder said with optimism.