Chairman of the Buckboard

Jose Calderon,
21st chairman of the Tucson Rodeo
Committee, is ready for the big event Feb. 18-26. Photo by James Patrick.

Chairman of the Buckboard

Jose Calderon dresses the part: cowboy boots, wide-brim cowboy hat and jeans. He is eager to talk about his love of all things rodeo. Before being elected recently to a three-year term as the 21st Chairman of the Tucson Rodeo Committee (which produces La Fiesta de los Vaqueros) he spent nine years as a volunteer.
Ever since he can remember, Calderon has wanted to be a part of the big event because of his passion for keeping Western traditions alive.
The Tucson Rodeo Parade is billed as the world’s longest non-motorized parade, drawing roughly 200,000 spectators. As to the nine-day rodeo itself, Calderon says, “On a good day we’re looking at 11,000-plus people attending. It’s all about keeping the lifestyle of a working ranch alive, like tying down calves, bringing them in and branding them. The other rodeo stuff, like bull riding, came later. That was not really a rancher’s deal, that was more of a ‘this ranch has a great cowboy, that ranch has someone who can ride a bull’ thing — and it eventually became a competition. But when you see bareback and saddle bronc, that’s how they used to break the horses.
“This will be our 92nd rodeo. For me, as a personal deal, there is nothing better than seeing a little boy in his chaps and cowboy hat, and a little girl with her ponytail, holding hands with their grandparents who have been coming to the rodeo for years. They wait for it. It’s a big, natural high for me and it’s all about those fans. We have one of the best rodeos, with a lot of volunteers and fantastic sponsors — Coors, RAM trucks, Jack Daniel’s, local sponsor Kalil Bottling Co. and many others.’’
Various committees deal with everything from first aid, ticket sales, grounds, performances, merchandizing, liquor, VIPs, food, and the list goes on. “And everyone has to be in sync. Arizona has such a rich Western tradition. It’s not about being the biggest rodeo or the best; it all comes down to our fans.
“We feature six days of performances, running from Feb. 18 to 26. The parade on Thursday, Feb. 23 is free and open to the public — though grandstand seating needs to be purchased.” Calderon wants everyone to know that the main performances begin the weekend before the parade. You can get all the information on the venues, times, and events at www.tucsonrodeo.com.
Calderon has a personal history with the Cowboy Way. When he was younger he says, “I used to bull ride. But I had more medical bills than I had earnings. I always loved the cowboy style. I’ve worked on ranches — we rounded up cattle, did branding and took care of repairs. There is always something broken at a ranch. Even in high school I was a big fan. And after my first year as a volunteer at the Tucson Rodeo, I knew I was going to be a big part of this operation — that’s how important it is to me.
“There are seven events — steer wrestling, team roping, women’s barrel racing, bull riding, bareback and saddle bronc riding and tie-down roping. All the rough stock events last eight seconds. A majority of the pros, they get hurt, they get thrown, they get broke.’’ Why would anyone do that? Calderon laughs and says, “It’s a rush. Some people jump out of planes, some people rock climb, some people swim with sharks. I enjoyed it because of the rush. It’s how cowboys lived back then. It’s all part of the show.”
Calderon, a Tucson native, does this to not only keep old traditions alive but to show those who weren’t around how ranch life was lived in an earlier era, before many became modernized and motorized. “Now,” he says, “often they use quads, trucks, even helicopters to round up cattle. The lifestyle of the cowboy is fading. There are more than 650 rodeos in the country, and we are part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association, which is the equivalent of the NFL. We started in 1925 and we’re now in the top twenty-five rodeos.’’
Calderon still holds his day job as owner of Hacienda Nuevo Builders. Just back from a Colorado Springs conference, Calderon says, “We go there to discuss future planning to ensure our rodeo will be staying on top of things, because it’s turned into a big business and is continually changing. We’re all volunteers, there aren’t any paid members. The committee puts this whole thing together, it takes time and effort but it’s something that you’re drawn to.’’
Calderon smiles and says, “This is my golden opportunity year. This is where the ride begins for me.”  — Laura Greenberg