SAN ANTONIO – When visitors hit the grounds of the 2020 San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, they will be enjoying the fruits of years of labor and an incredible vision.
The vision came from Joe and Harry Freeman, a pair of brothers who wanted a indoor arena where cowboys could come and show off their ranching-style skills and earn a little money.
Before the Freeman Coliseum was built, young breeders were showing animals at the old Stock Yards and later at the old Polo Grounds at Brackenridge Park.
The coliseum was built in 1949, and one year later, the venue hosted two events -- youngsters were showing animals on the grounds while the Cowboys rode inside the coliseum.
“That is when it become official from the standpoint of starting the Stock Show and Rodeo,” said Tres Kleberg, chairman of the San Antonio Livestock Exposition Education Fund from 2003-2010.
Since the opening season, there has been constant growth and some change to keep up with the times.
In 1984, Mary Nan West, who was chairwoman then, spearheaded one of those changes.
West wanted the students to benefit more from showing off their hard work of raising animals so she raised the question, “What can we do to really support the kids?” according to Kleberg.
So the Rodeo started offering scholarships to students who won breeding competitions. That year, 15 scholarships worth $90,000 were awarded. Now, thousands of scholarships with over $10 million are awarded.
As the Rodeo expanded, so did the need for a bigger facility.
In 2003, the AT&T Center opened and a partnership between the San Antonio Spurs and Bexar County allowed the rodeo to move in while the Spurs moved out for two and a half weeks for their annual Rodeo Road Trip.
The AT&T Center opened the doors for a huge increase in scholarships.
“If I remember correctly, when we were in the Coliseum and we had our best years like a half-million bucks, when we moved to the AT&T Center, it doubled immediately,” Kleberg said.
There are several reasons why the money for scholarships has increased to $210 million. One important factor is the rodeo itself.
Another outside-the-box idea and a competitive move to take on other rodeos, the rodeo board decided in the early 2000′s to pick up the entry fee tab for all the athletes competing.
“They used to have to pay their way. You would have to pay the entry fee and the entry fees, you know -- two, three hundred bucks. $500 was a lot of money for those guys. They were living hand to mouth,” Kleberg said.
No entry fee means the athletes get to keep all their winnings, and that is why the keep coming back year after year -- not to mention the hospitality. Just a few reasons alone why many say San Antonio is one of the biggest and best rodeos in the country.
“They love San Antonio because you feel like you are coming home,” Kleberg said.