“Back in 1970, some members of the UGA Block and Bridle Club were on the livestock judging team and needed money to travel across the country to compete. So, they had the idea of starting a rodeo as a fundraiser and used their washers and dryers and trucks as collateral and signed on for this large event that it turned out to be, and so, in 1974, the first Great Southland Stampede Rodeo was hosted in Stegman Coliseum,” says Lorene Parker, 2023 GSSR Advertising Chair. “So, they removed the basketball court and put in ten inches of dirt for the rodeo weekend, and it stayed there for twenty-nine years. Then after that, it moved around to a couple different parks and places, but Block and Bridle worked hard to bring it back to campus. So, since 2004, we’ve been here at the UGA Livestock Instructional Arena.”
The students involved in organizing and running the Great Southland Stampede Rodeo are a shining example of why this event is sold out night after night. Their dedication, hard work, and passion for the sport of rodeo is evident in every aspect of the event. From the exhilarating bull riding, to the fast-paced barrel racing, the Great Southland Stampede Rodeo showcases the best of the best in rodeo, and with the help of the students running the show, this event has become a true highlight of the rodeo calendar.
“I’ve been thinking about this rodeo since August, like I haven’t had a life,” says Braelin Smallwood, 2023 GSSR Chairman. “None of us have had a life. Anytime we see each other, we’re just like, ‘how’s like rodeo?’ Knowing how much people love this has just made things great. I don’t know, it’s made it worth it.”
Braelin Smallwood, a Senior from Lincolnton, Georgia brought with her a unique perspective to this years rodeo. In addition to serving as chairperson, Braelin is a rodeo veteran and competitive barrel racer. Long before she became a student at UGA, Braelin heard stories of the Great Southland Stampede Rodeo, and hoped someday she could not only see it in person, but maybe even compete in it. Well eventually, she did. An experience that some would argue made her the perfect chair. And Braelin will be the first to admit, her role became somewhat of an obsession.
“Because I have competed, I’m like, okay, what’s gonna make this better for spectators as well as contestants,” says Smallwood.
“It’s amazing to me the amount of people that come out that were a part of the
GSSR twenty, thirty years ago that have kids now and that’s maybe that’s how they met their spouse was when they were working with Block and Bridle on the rodeo,” says Parker. “So, some really cool stories come from it. It’s really an honor to be a part of it the way that we are and be able to carry that tradition on and just see it grow bigger each year.”
Because of it’s tradition and uniqueness in that it’s organized entirely by students, the Great Southland Stampede Rodeo continues to grow in popularity. On the morning our cameras were there, the arena was packed full of local school children, about twelve hundred total. All three night’s, sold out. Yes, a good problem to have, but challenging when the demand outnumbers the amount of people the local fire Marshall will allow.
“Last year we sold out all three nights. This year we sold out all three nights, but even faster,” says Smallwood. “We had discussed having four different performances, so having a Thursday night, Friday night, Saturday daytime, and a Saturday night. I imagine in order to accommodate more people, we’re gonna have to do that in the future; have more performances, maybe extend it to a Sunday just because I know we’ve had to turn so many people away.”
“It could be bigger. If we could find somewhere else that could host this big of an event, we could definitely expand to have more attendees, but we also have the love and value for being on campus in UGA’s Livestock Arena,” says Parker. “So, I think we’ll stay here for the sense of being connected to UGA, but there’s always ways to expand, and ways it could be bigger.”
By: Ray D’Alessio