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The Santa Maria Elks Rodeo and Parade season is officially underway, and while it's still February, Elks Recreation, the committee that oversees the rodeo, is busy putting the pieces together.

“Can you believe it?” Elks Recreation Chief Operating Officer Tina Tonascia said Feb. 5, during the 2019 kickoff press conference. “The rodeo is only four months away. The time will fly until opening day and we’ve still got lots to do.”

This year's Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA)/Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) four-day run is set for May 30 through June 2 at the Elks Unocal Event Center.

In its 76th season, the Santa Maria rodeo has been chosen as one of the top 60 PRCA/WPRA rodeos in the country.

That’s important because those organizations have changed the way cowboys and cowgirls qualify for the season-ending National Finals Rodeo (NFR) in Las Vegas.

Until this year, the year’s top 15 money-winning cowboys and cowgirls in each event qualified for December’s season-ending NFR.

This year, a new playoff format is being put in place in which competitors will earn points at the top 60 rodeos -- the new Pro Rodeo Tour.

The top 40 in regular-season points qualify for the playoffs that will be held at rodeos in October and November, with the top 15 at the end of the playoffs earning a spot in the NFR.

“That’s why Santa Maria getting into the top 60 is so important,” said Johnna Clark, the Elks Rodeo media director. “There are about 600 annual rodeos in the United States. If you’re not a top 60 rodeo, then there’s no reason for cowboys and cowgirls to compete. This means that Santa Maria is a must-attend destination. We’re all really excited they included medium-sized rodeos in their top 60.”

Santa Maria Elks Rodeo is the 21st stop on the Pro Rodeo Tour, and the rodeo and parade are the centerpieces of the four-day weekend that kicks off with the Minetti Mini Rodeo.

But that’s just part of the action-packed weekend.

The Elks have already opened entries for the Beard-A-Reno and Miss Wrangler contests.

The Queen candidates will be introduced Feb. 24 at a special breakfast at the Elks Lodge.

Coming soon will be registration for several events, including the Minetti Mini Rodeo qualifier, mutton bustin’, Elks team roping, stick horse racing and sponsor flag tryouts.

The Army Push-Up Challenge is returning for its second year with local high school students competing to complete the most pushups in the timed event. The local high schools will also be back to compete for the School Spirit Award.

The Santa Maria Times and Lee Central Coast Newspapers will again sponsor the fundraising Cowboy Up Casino.

Rodeo Hall of Famer Cotton Rosser and his Flying U Rodeo will provide the rough stock for the bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding events with the Flying U Flying Cowboys motorcycle jumpers closing out each performance.

Rodeo Hall of Famer Bob Tallman, fresh off winning the PRCA Announcer of the Year award, and Wayne Brooks are coming back to handle all the rodeo announcing while the Wrangler Network is returning to webcast each night’s performance.

Justin Rumford, who just won his seventh straight Coors Man in the Can award for being the best rodeo clown in the country, will reprise his role as professor at the annual Media Clown School.

“The Business Barrel Race and Diamond Dan Diamond Giveaway were both a huge success and we’re bring them back,” Tonascia said.

And then there’s the Golden Circle of Champions.

“We started it three years ago to carry on the legacy of Lexi Brown,” Tonascia said. “We were able to roll it out national at the NFR. James Miller, the manager of the Red Bluff Roundup, and Pat Christianson, from Las Vegas Events, were instrumental in getting the PRCA Executive Council to come on board and make the program national. It’s going to be bigger and better this year. Lexi didn’t lose her fight to cancer -- she passed it on to us.”

The Golden Circle of Champions dinner will be held opening night on May 30.

“None of this would be possible without the tireless work of our committee chairmen and all of our volunteers,” Tonascia said. “The rodeo has become synonymous with giving back to the community. Our volunteers prove that imagination and creativity know no limits. We’ve been blessed to have great officers and volunteers who have put the Santa Maria Elks Rodeo back on the map.”

“We’re all really excited. I know I can’t wait,” Elks Rec President Peter Sterling said. “We got some really good entertainment acts scheduled to go with all the rest of our rodeo lineup. It’s going to be another great year.”

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