An old tradition will return to the area this weekend when the Ada firefighters host the Ada’s Original Firemen’s Rodeo.
The rodeo will take place Friday and Saturday at 3Crosses/Ken Lance Arena in Union Valley. The gates open at 5 p.m. each day, with a mutton-busting competition at 7:30 p.m. and the rodeo at 8.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for children, and family packs are available for $20. Kids age 12 and younger will be admitted for free.
The event will include donkey races, calf dressing, a grand entry and the Sweethearts of the Rodeo.
All proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the Ada firefighters, who will use the money to cover the expense of training, fire prevention and education programs, firefighter and rodeo organizer Sam Smith said Wednesday.
“We just want to make a little money and provide family entertainment,” he said.
He said the firefighters occasionally donate funds to needy or injured colleagues.
Rodeos past and present
Ada’s rodeo tradition began in 1921, when the local American Legion Post hosted the community’s first rodeo, author Ann Klepper wrote in her 2009 book “The Ada Rodeo: An Incredible Saga.” The rodeo was so successful that organizers considered making it an annual event, but that did not happen.
Fourteen years later, a group of firefighters began planning the first Ada Fireman’s Rodeo, according to Klepper. The two-day event in August 1935 drew 38,000 people, and organizers broke even.
The first fireman’s rodeo took place at the old Ada Ballpark, but organizers moved it to the Pontotoc County fairgrounds in 1937. The annual event took place during the second week of August, following the famous Frontier Days rodeo in Cheyenne, Wyo.
Klepper said the fireman’s rodeo eventually became a fixture on Ada’s social calendar.
“The society pages of the Ada Evening News were filled with accounts of prominent out-of-town visitors; families scheduled their reunions for rodeo week and many fashionable events will held during that time,” she wrote.
Klepper said the event garnered national attention in 1940, when the Mutual Broadcasting System radio network treated fans to a rodeo broadcast.
In 1942, the Ada Fire Department had to take on additional duties related to World War II. Consequently, the department decided it would not host the rodeo as long as the war continued.
A few days later, the Ada Round-up Club and the Junior Chamber of Commerce announced that they would sponsor the rodeo. Organizers switched to a one-day amateur rodeo in 1943, but they returned to the original format the following year, according to Klepper.
The local Elks Club acquired the rodeo in 1947 and sponsored it through the 1950s, according to Klepper. By 1958, the rodeo ranked fifth in the nation based on prize money and attendance.
Rodeo promoter Ken Lance and two partners bought the rodeo in 1961. The trio presented the rodeo at the county fairgrounds in 1962, then moved it to the Ken Lance Sports Arena southeast of Ada.
Smith said the rodeo was discontinued in the 1960s for unknown reasons, but organizers revived it in the late 1980s and kept it going until 2004. The rodeo ended after 2004, but organizers are bringing it back again this year.
Smith said the Ada Police Department’s Drug Abuse Resistance Program used to sponsor its own rodeo, but the program lost its funding earlier this year. Consequently, the Ada firefighters decided to take the reins.
He said organizers hope the rodeo will become an Ada tradition once again.
“We’re just wanting to start it back up and give the community something to do,” he said.