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Lancaster Event Center reviewing latest state health measures ahead of planned rodeo finals
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Lancaster Event Center reviewing latest state health measures ahead of planned rodeo finals

Lancaster Event Center work, 7.16

A general view of new campgrounds built for the National High School Final Rodeo coming to the Lancaster Event Center next year.

One of the biggest events on this summer's calendar might be a go.

That's good news for the 1,500 competitors in the National High School Finals Rodeo and the businesses that will welcome contestants and their families to Lincoln in July, many visiting the city for the first time.

But for staff at the Lancaster Event Center, which already has put so much into trying to make the rodeo's first Lincoln visit its best ever, the run-up to the July 19-25 event is now like making a run in pole bending with a new horse.

Staff members are parsing changes to the state's latest directed health measure and working closely with the Lincoln-Lancaster County Health Department to make sure everything possible is in place to make this a safe and satisfying event for all involved.

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But to manage all of that and with every inch of the event center grounds likely to be utilized to promote social distancing, Event Center Director Amy Dickerson expects it will take more people. And with fewer people expected to volunteer for obvious reasons, what it costs to put on a great event might be going up.

On Friday, the day after Gov. Pete Ricketts gave the go-ahead for rodeos, Dickerson and others were going over their plans and reaching out to potential donors and sponsors who want to get their name in front of visitors to Lincoln in a year where tourism has taken a big hit.

"We're hoping there are some more businesses out there who want to help us," Dickerson said. "And we believe we can help them."

From the day it was first announced, the rodeo's move to Lincoln has been billed as a big win for the city and the event center. But no one could have predicted what hit earlier this year.

Lancaster Event Center grows up, prepares for its biggest event in National High School Finals Rodeo

The pandemic and ongoing measures to prevent further spread of COVID-19 could mean no public ticket sales for the rodeo, but Dickerson expects almost all of the contestants who qualify to show up, except for those from outside the U.S.

She's heard from only a few vendors who have indicated plans to opt out of the rodeo's big trade show, something she considers a positive sign.

Organizers are planning as if the latest rules announced will be what apply in July but are hoping that they're hearing about loosened restrictions a month from now.

The new covered grandstand constructed for the rodeo is nearly complete, officials said, and the campsites are ready for the event that is booked in Lincoln four of the next eight years.

But the first one will be more memorable than anyone could have imagined.

Said Dickerson: "Even in a global pandemic, we'll make it happen.”

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2657 or

On Twitter @LJSRileyJohnson.

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