ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. - Nearly 18,000 fans attended the inaugural Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo, produced by Barnes PRCA Rodeo of Cherokee and Peterson, for an historic three-day run here earlier this month.
On top of those impressive numbers, a record purse exceeding $90,000 rewarded 250 of the country's finest PRCA contestants in seven exciting rodeo events, according to Bob and Donita Barnes, founders of the nationally acclaimed Barnes/MJM PRCA Rodeo.
John Barnes, who organized the East Coast's largest rodeo ever, and spent several advance days in Atlantic City, was ecstatic with the outstanding success of the inaugural event held in the historic Boardwalk Hall.
"We love it," said John Barnes when asked about the event. "It was a super inaugural event. There is room to grow. This is going to become an annual event that people are going to make vacations for. It's going to get to the point where people are going to have to buy their tickets in advance because it will be sold out."
Janet Markowitz, Chair for the historic rodeo, said she already has received phone calls from rodeo contestants throughout the country asking about the dates for the 2012 rodeo because word has spread about how well the event was run in Atlantic City.
"It was such a good event," said Markowitz. "I can't believe it's over. We want to do the same week next year. Everybody (associated with the rodeo) is on board."
Somewhere along the line, those had to be the sentiments of the faithful few who gathered at an Atlantic City, N.J. Strategic Planning Committee last year when the suggestion was made to bring a professional rodeo to the Atlantic City Boardwalk for the first time ever.
Pushing the idea was Dennis Gomes, the Atlantic City Resorts Casino Hotel Chief Executive Officer who, as a lad, attended various rodeos in his native California and in Nevada. As Gomes pleaded his case and more supporters of the idea jumped aboard, the excitement level grew, and the freshly appointed chair of the Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo - personable, energetic flower merchant Janet Markowitz - took the reins.
In January, a press conference was held at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City to announce the inaugural Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo, April 1-3, at 10,000-seat Boardwalk Hall Arena, 2314 Pacific Ave.
The PRCA-sanctioned rodeo featured three performances: April 1-2 at 7:30 p.m. (ET) and at 1 p.m. on April 3.
"It went sensational," said John Barnes, a PRCA board member and the chairman of the Stock Contractor's Executive Council. "All the casinos were involved and you can't believe the support the PRCA received in Atlantic City."
Seven casinos joined to support the rodeo. "They want it right and they are doing it right," John Barnes said.
The rodeo was the biggest on the East Coast in the past 50-plus years.
Before the rodeo, Markowitz was quick to report in a telephone conversation that the entire Atlantic City Boardwalk "has simply fallen in love with John Barnes and his style and rodeo knowledge. "Were dragging him all over the place. And we just can't wait to meet Bob and Donita, Marty and Mitzi, and all their families," said Markowitz.
According to an article in the Prorodeo Sports News (PSN) Magazine, Bareback rider Chris Harris said he'd never been to New Jersey before April 1, when he was slated to ride at the Atlantic City Boardwalk Rodeo. Now, he says he can't wait to go back.
The veteran Harris split the win in Atlantic City with 20-year-old permit-holder Tyler Pasour by riding Barnes PRCA Rodeo's Buffalo Ridge for 84 points. But as happy as he was about the $3,071 that came with the shared title, Harris was even more excited about the energy of the fans and the rodeo's potential.
"I walked out the front of the arena and down the Boardwalk, and never in my life have I seen so much enthusiasm out of fans," Harris said. "They were all coming out of the doors, talking up a storm. I stopped and talked to a couple fans, and as far as I could tell, that was something that was so new to them -- something they had never been a part of and something they had never seen. I kept listening as I walked back to my hotel, and I never heard a negative word."
The event paid out a total of $90,439, and between a good purse, a good venue in Atlantic City's historic Boardwalk Hall and a welcoming rodeo committee and fan base (a three-day total of 17,685 fans), Harris said he believes rodeo will only get bigger and better on the Boardwalk -- and fast.
"The setting's right to be not only a good rodeo, but to be one of the best rodeos we have in the association," said Harris, a six-time qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. "I honestly believe that they'll be sold out well in advance next year. Everybody we talked to, they were so excited to have us there and be a part of it.
"I think it's a wonderful deal. I was excited to be a part of it, and I was really excited to win it. Going up there, I was happy just to see it and be a part of it, but to go up and win it, wow, that made it even better."
"The Barnes family was the best," Markowitz said. "(Announcer) Bob Tallman was spectacular. (PRCA official) Butch Kirby was great; anything we wanted, he helped us out. Everybody was like that.
"I can't imagine how it could ever be better, but I know next year is going to be 100 times better. This is just the tip of the iceberg."
For sure, it's a family affair for Bob and Donita Barnes. John also serves as Chute Boss and Flankman, Marty is lead Pickup Man, and Donita, Mitzi (Barnes) Johnson, and Marty's wife Kendall serve as timers, among other behind-the-scenes duties.
"It went great," said Bob Barnes. "What a wonderful experience. We're already excited for next year. When you treat people the way you want to be treated, it all clicks."
"We had a great time and made many great friends and memories," added Donita.
After all was said and done, the second order of business, according to Markowitz, was setting the dates for the 2012 Atlantic City Boardwalk PRCA Rodeo for March 30, 31, and April 1.
The first order of business was booking Barnes PRCA Rodeo.