Feb. 9, 2005 - Tucson will be the center of the rodeo world when, for the 80th straight year, the Fiesta de los Vaqueros comes to town Feb. 19 through 27. Better known as the Tucson Rodeo, this year's festival will feature 675 riders competing in more than a week's worth of professional and junior events from bull riding to mutton bustin.'

When it comes to gathering the largest number of the top athletes in the entire sport, the Tucson Rodeo is second to few.

"If this was a bowl game it would be the Rose Bowl," said Gary Williams, general manager of the Tucson Rodeo.

The first civic event in the history of Tucson, the Fiesta de los Vaqueros, or Festival of the Cowboy, dates back to 1925. In 80 years the event has grown considerably and has become an annual tradition celebrated by all ages.

This year the rodeo will draw between 52,000 and 55,000 spectators to the various events spread out over the festival's nine days, estimated Williams.

The throngs of rodeo supporters who make their way to the Tucson Rodeo grounds, 4823 S. Sixth Ave, will be entertained by 35 current or former world champions, including all world champion in their respective fields from 2004.

Events will begin at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 19 when the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association's sanctioned bull riding competition bursts through the chutes. Following the day's bull riding will be the Tucson Pro-Rodeo Bull Riding and Guy's Night Out Concert featuring recording artists Craig Morgan and Billy Dean.

The first competition of the pro rodeo will begin at 2 p.m. immediately following the Justin Junior Rodeo and the Dodge Mutton Bustin,' Feb. 20.

Various events such as the slack competition and Gold Card Team Roping will be held throughout the week, starting every morning at 8 a.m. and continuing through the afternoon.

The Tucson Rodeo Parade, one of the biggest draws of the weeklong event, will mosey its way through Tucson Feb. 24.

The parade, which is as old as the Tucson Rodeo, has been such a success and a fan favorite that those wishing to view its history can do so at the Tucson Rodeo Parade Museum, located on the northeast corner of South Sixth Avenue and Irvington Road.

As for the rodeo, events will include bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding.

The Tucson Rodeo is the first professional outdoor rodeo since October and will feature current and former world rodeo champions from around the world. Riders in the rodeo travel from as far away as Australia and Canada to compete.

In terms of prize money awarded to riders, the Tucson Rodeo ranks in the top 20 among more than 700 sanctioned rodeos in the United States and Canada.

According to Williams, nobody buys more tickets to the Tucson Rodeo than Northwest residents. Ticket demographics have shown that residents living north of River Road buy more season tickets and seats to individual events.

Tickets are still on sale and available through the Tucson Rodeo Grounds or by calling 741-2233. Bull riding tickets also can be purchased at Western Warehouse stores in Tucson and Nogales.

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