Roy Pioneer Rodeo Association president talks event history, June showcase


Since 1960, the annual Roy Pioneer Rodeo has welcomed spectators, fans of rodeo and cowboys and cowgirls from all over to compete on the first weekend of June and throughout Labor Day weekend. In 2024, the event returned on Saturday, June 1, and Sunday, June 2.

Despite starting out with humble beginnings in 1959, the Roy Pioneer Rodeo has evolved into one of the biggest rodeos in western Washington and one of the best in the Northwest Pro Rodeo Association, Roy Pioneer Rodeo Association President Jim Rotondo said.

“It’s a family thing. My dad and our next door neighbor were involved once the rodeo got started in 1959 and in 1960 with the first event,” Rotondo said. “We were going strong until COVID. We missed one and a half rodeo seasons during COVID, and we’re trying to get built back up. It seems like we’re heading that direction. It started out slow, and it’s built into what it is now.”

Rotondo recalled visiting Fort Lewis on Saturdays during the early years of the Roy Pioneer Rodeo to collect recycled wood from barracks torn down on the military base and straightening out nails to reuse for different projects on the rodeo grounds.

“It started out with a bunch of old timers sitting around and talking about building a rodeo arena. Rainier had one, Parkland had one, but Roy didn’t have anything. They said, ‘Here’s five dollars. That’ll get us started,’ and here we are today with this big crowd and good stock,” Rotondo said. “It’s been expanded from a small setup to what it is now; 99% of the work is all volunteer labor. Every once in a while we’ll find something that needs an overhaul. It’s getting bigger and bigger each year.”

Rotondo said he feels a sense of pride serving as the Roy Pioneer Rodeo Association president due to his dad being “right there in the mix” when the annual event was first beginning.

“It’s a big community event that’s got to keep going,” Rotondo said. “When he started getting a little slower and I started picking up a little more, and then when he passed away, I fell right into this. Here we are, five, six years later. It’s going strong, and it makes me glad because back in the old days we had to borrow money to pay off the bills because we didn’t have a very good rodeo.”

On Saturday, June 1, Roy Pioneer Rodeo officials had to shut the gate around 2 p.m. due to the rodeo grounds reaching its capacity, despite hundreds of people waiting in line to get into the event. Rotondo said that rodeo officials got as many people in as they could, and it’s “evident” that rodeo officials could consider adding in more bleachers. But the addition of more bleachers would “take away from other things that we have” at the rodeo grounds, he added.

“I think [reaching maximum capacity] means we’re doing something right. We’re putting on one of the better shows in the NPRA rodeos. With good contestants, we get great crowds. We’ve also added money to their earnings, which makes it more appealing to the riders. They’ll pass up one rodeo to go to another one because maybe they’ve added $500 to the first place. We’re doing fairly well right now,” Rotondo said. “We were a little worried about this weekend because we thought we were going to start off with a bombshell, looking at the weather and everything. I wonder if the big crowd that was here [June 1] was because everyone wanted to go to a rodeo now because it’s going to rain tomorrow.”

After the Roy Pioneer Rodeo missed one-and-a-half seasons due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Rotondo said people packed the stands when the rodeo returned in September 2021. He added that the rodeo’s attendance has grown with each following event.

“This was perfect weather here because everybody isn’t too hot or too cold,” Rotondo said. “It’s perfect for the animals because they seem to buck better when it’s cooler. That’s understandable because nobody wants to work too hard when they’re all hot and sweaty.”

The luck with good weather did not continue Sunday as intermittent heavy rain hit Roy and surrounding areas throughout the day. Despite the poor weather, the covered stands on the rodeo grounds were nearly full for another show on Sunday.

The sellout crowd on June 1 was not made up of strictly Roy residents, as people from all throughout the region attended. Rotondo said this event brings a lot of activity into the small city and ultimately helps out local businesses.

“You look at Roy. It’s a small town, and we’ve got more people in town right now than if the city size was doubled — and we’d still have extra. People come from all over the place. I think it’s a good thing for the town because there isn’t a lot to do in town,” Rotondo said. “The businesses all benefit, and that’s part of it, too. We make enough money to keep the show going, and the few businesses we have stock up for the rodeo. They sell pop and beer, chips and gas, whatever else down the line. It helps the economy of the city.”

Rotondo said the primary goal of the Roy Pioneer Rodeo Association is to provide the best rodeo in the NPRA group.

“We want to be better than the guys down the street,” Rotondo said. “We’d like to get more people involved with this. There’s always something to do, and it’s been a few people doing a lot of the work. But we’re starting to get more people to come in and help. When we do work parties, it’s a little more enjoyable. You don’t have to go 100 miles per hour. You only have to go 50.”

People interested in volunteering for the Roy Pioneer Rodeo Association can attend the monthly meetings, which take place at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of every month at the rodeo office at the rodeo grounds in Roy.

The Roy Rodeo will return for its fall showcase on Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.