Student Newswire of The University of Arizona School of Journalism

Arizona Sonoran News

Arizona Sonoran News

Student Newswire of The University of Arizona School of Journalism

Arizona Sonoran News

Behind the Tucson Rodeo


José Calderon stands in front of the Tucson Rodeo grounds. (Photo by: Chloe Persichetti/ Arizona Sonora News)

The grounds are empty. Empty stadium seats, open parking lots and steer pens with nothing around but silence in the air, except for one man overlooking the rodeo racetrack. This man is José Calderon.

It’s his second year presiding over the Tucson Rodeo. Saturday marks its 93rd year. Calderon is the chairman of the board, dedicating his time year-round planning the event. Calderon says he spends more time and energy into the rodeo than he does his real job. His eyes beam with pride as he talks about his work with the rodeo.

“You got to have a passion for it too. if your hearts in it…it’s like anything else. If you’re in a relationship it’s not going to work if your hearts not into it, your jobs not going to work if your hearts not in it, the same thing with this. And my biggest passion is this right here…I just live and breathe it now.”

Calderon says his biggest honor was receiving his belt. “No one can take this away from me,” Calderon says. “It comes with great responsibility.”

Calderon’s committee belt. (Photo by: Chloe Persichetti/ Arizona Sonora News)

Joan Liess, the media and marketing coordinator says, “[Calderon’s] the guy who calls me at 7 p.m. with a great idea…he’s the biggest cheerleader I’ve ever worked with in my 25 years with the rodeo.”

The Tucson Rodeo is one of the top 25 professional rodeo events, making Tucson a tourist destination during this time. “Many people don’t know that,” Calderon says.

The event attracts around 200,000 people over the span of two weekends in February.

“I picture myself one day in my high 70s or 80s,” Calderon says. “And I truly see myself kind of putsin’ around here in August or June when nothing is going on…and that’s how you know someone’s really apart of it. when they’re out here and nothing’s going on. But they need to be here. They need that fuel…it keeps them alive sometimes.”

Three months before the rodeo starts, the grounds are empty with little noise around, “a lot of us meditate right here,” Calderon says. Volunteers begin measuring parking spaces and getting things ready for the upcoming event.

The year-long commitment of planning and organizing the rodeo is not done by a single person, but rather a whole team. While there are many positions, José says he sees everyone as an equal. Regardless of ranking, all volunteers are here for the same reason, to make the rodeo a success. He says what many people may not know is that “all the volunteers aren’t paid, even me…it’s the love of the job that keeps us coming out here.”

Deborah “Debbie” Barnett, member of finance for the rodeo, talks about Calderon,”He’s very attentive to all members of the committee. He’s a wonderful dad, devoted to his two daughters and he exemplifies that family.”

Being on the committee also means you have to “have eyes on the back of your head,” as Calderon says. “It’s not all hard work, many jokes go on here.”

He recalls back to some of their jokes, “ It’s never harmful but we do like to joke around.”

“One man said he was thinking about shaving off his mustache and right away we took him to the ground with clippers and shaved the whole thing off,” Calderon says. “Another time, a volunteer fell asleep and we strapped him to a docile bull, but the man didn’t know the bull was tame. He was so scared,” Calderon laughs.

But when it comes time to get it done, we get it done, Calderon says. “Nothing goes wrong- except for mother nature, and we can’t control that.”

During rodeo time, he says his favorite thing to see is “a grandparent holding their grandchild’s hand.” The rodeo has been around for so long, it shows the generational commitment the fans have. Calderon says when he was young, he would come as well.

“What makes the rodeo special is the volunteers at the end of the day all say goodbye and thank the people coming to our party, our home. He says people really enjoy that aspect,” Calderon says.  “It means we care.”

Calderon says the saddest day is Monday, the day after the last show. They have to hand the property back over to the city. He depicts it as a ghost town- “trash everywhere, maybe a steer or two left, the seats are deserted…where there used to be so much energy now there’s silence.”

“This is my backyard, my party…I always tell people if they can’t find me, ask for the small man with a smile on his face,” Calderon says. “And when it’s all over, we take a few days break and it’s right back to planning for the next year.”


Chloe Persichetti is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at [email protected].

Click here for high-resolution photos and a Word version of the story.



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