Feature Story: San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo

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Let’s Rodeo San Antonio! With this rallying cry, the 74th annual San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo will kick off on February 9th and run through February 26th. Last year, approximately 1.3 million visitors passed through the fairground gates, and this year’s attendance is projected to equal or exceed that.

In 2022 alone, over 21,000 students were impacted by Stock Show & Rodeo funds raised to help advance their education and agricultural goals. The San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo has awarded $243 million to Texas youth through scholarships, grants, endowments, junior livestock auctions, Western art sales, the calf scramble program, and horse show premiums since 1984. Since its inception in 1949, the San Antonio Rodeo has become one of the largest rodeos in the U.S. In addition, the Junior Livestock Show today is one of the largest in the nation as well.

None of this would be possible without the tireless efforts of the event’s dedicated staff and volunteers. Read on to learn about how four women leaders of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo play essential roles in making all of this possible.

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Nancy Loeffler, Chairwoman of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo’s Executive Board of Directors

As Chairwoman of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo’s Executive Board of Directors, Nancy Loeffler oversees the Executive Committee meetings and conducts the major volunteer meetings in preparation for the annual event. Each year Loeffler lives on the rodeo grounds for the duration of the show so she can keep a close eye on all the barn activity and spend time with the Stock Show’s youth exhibitors.

Driven by a lifelong commitment to volunteering, Loeffler has been deeply involved with the Stock Show & Rodeo’s operations for the past 12 years. “I grew up in San Angelo, and my parents were involved with every volunteer job in town,” Loeffler explained. “I grew up thinking that’s how everyone lived. My sister and I were raised with the belief that you have to give back a lot because you’ve been given a lot.”

Loeffler is passionate about the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo’s mission to educate more young people in the state of Texas. “It’s so important as our state goes forward to expose as many kids as possible to higher education so that they have a better chance at a great future,” she explained. “Our job as the Executive Board of Directors is to ensure we live up to our commitment to help the children of Texas get a college education. The college scholarships we give out each year truly change the lives of our scholarship recipients.”

She also noted that participation in the Stock Show & Rodeo is a wonderful way for young people to learn responsibility and the value of hard work. “Taking care of their animals and preparing them for the Stock Show teaches them tremendous responsibility.”

Loeffler said that, without a doubt, the COVID-19 pandemic created some of the greatest challenges for the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo in recent memory.

“The pandemic was like a tall mountain that rose up before us overnight,” she said. “We knew we couldn’t go dark and that we had to keep our volunteers engaged throughout the disruption. We started working with Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff, who is a champion for us, and we were able to pull off a scaled-back, socially-distanced rodeo with his help. I’m very proud of what we accomplished with this.”

Loeffler emphasized that the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo absolutely would not be what it is today without the commitment of thousands of volunteers. “We would not be able to fulfill our mission without these dedicated and hard-working individuals.”

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Darci Owens, Rodeo Officer

Darci Owens came full circle when she took the Rodeo Officer position for the San Antonio Rodeo five years ago. Growing up on her family ranch in Crockett County, she showed sheep and goats in Texas stock shows and received a college scholarship from the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.

Today, she oversees all aspects of the competition and show production for the San Antonio Rodeo, which spans over 22 separate performances. Owens also works alongside the Operations Committee and building staff in the transformation of the AT&T Center from an NBA basketball facility into a top-flight PRCA rodeo arena complete with 2,200 tons of dirt in only three days.

“Transitioning the AT&T Center from the Spurs home into the home of the San Antonio Rodeo is an ‘all hands on deck’ operation,” Owens said. “Our small staff couldn’t make this happen without the army of volunteers who donate their time and resources to this effort each year.”

Owens also creates the timelines and manages the daily rehearsals for the 18-day rodeo. In addition, she maintains close communication with the rodeo judges and livestock managers to ensure the competition is sound and fair.

“One of our top priorities is making sure the San Antonio Rodeo is a great experience for our competitors and our attendees,” she explained. “Each year, we strive to improve our production quality and make our rodeo an even more rewarding experience.”

One of the most gratifying aspects of Owens’ job is the fact that the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo provides so many opportunities for attendees to learn more about agriculture. “I love being able to expose young people to the Western lifestyle and the value it brings to their lives,” she said. “It’s very important to expose kids, who may be growing up in the suburbs or the city, to the reality that there is a whole lot of work that goes into getting the food on your table.”

She noted that the dedication of the 6,000 volunteers who make the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo a success each year is essential to the mission of providing as many scholarships as possible to Texas youth. “Every penny we save by relying on our incredible volunteers goes to our scholarships,” she said. “In large part to their efforts, we are able to provide $12 million each year in college scholarships.”

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Sarah Franklin, Livestock Committee Chairwoman

Now in her third year as Livestock Chairwoman, Sarah Franklin also serves on the Stock Show & Rodeo’s Board of Directors and the Scholarship Committee. As the Stock Show’s Livestock Committee Chairwoman, Franklin oversees a committee of 1,500 volunteers responsible for putting on the Stock Show.

“During the Stock Show, we essentially run 24/7,” Franklin explained. “Our committee manages the livestock arrivals, the actual showing, departures, and turning the barns around to get them ready for the next category of livestock.”

Last year, approximately 24,000 youth exhibitors participated in the Stock Show, competing for a chance to win a $10,000 scholarship in their category. “In 2022, every county in the state of Texas was represented in the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, either through a junior competition or the scholarship program,” she noted.

In addition to the livestock competitions ranging from cattle to poultry, Franklin and her team oversee additional competitions, including the Food Challenge, the Science Fair, and Agrobotics. Winners of these divisions are also eligible to receive a scholarship.

“For 2023, we have $1.5 million in scholarship awards available for scholarship awards for the winners in the Livestock Show and related competitions,” Franklin said. “Throughout the Stock Show, the livestock committee members are pretty much running on adrenaline. But the minute you go to one of the scholarship presentations and see these kids and their reactions to winning a college scholarship, it makes every minute so worthwhile. Many times, we’ve had the parents of scholarship winners come up to the committee members in tears of happiness because all the hard work their son or daughter has put into this paid off.”

Franklin grew up south of San Antonio and was very active in showing cattle and swine. “I showed in other major stock shows across the state, but the San Antonio Stock Show always felt like home to me,” she said. “As an adult, I began volunteering with the San Antonio Stock Show as a way to give back to the organization that gave me so much growing up. Our goal is to make the Stock Show a first-class experience for every one of our exhibitors,” she said. “We want to make it something that the kids will always remember.”

Franklin emphasizes that the people involved with the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo are what make it so special. “The San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo is truly like a family. It is a very unique culture.”

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Sage Hanner, Horse Show Director

Sage Hanner has served as the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo’s Horse Show Director since 2016. In this role, she works directly with the Horse Show Committee of approximately 500 volunteers. This group manages a wide variety of show events, ranging from the four-day Cutting Horse Show with multiple classes to the three-day Youth Rodeo with multiple events.

“We are one of the only Stock Show & Rodeos in Texas to put on a youth rodeo,” Hanner said. “Each year, we have around 450 contestants competing for college scholarships.” Hanner noted that a number of the San Antonio Youth Rodeo contestants go on to compete in college rodeos or even in PRCA rodeos.

“During the course of the Stock Show & Rodeo, we have anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 horses come through our barns,” she explained. “In addition to the horse show contestants, we also coordinate the logistics for all the horses in the Rodeo itself.”

Hanner, who graduated from West Texas A&M, where she rode on the school’s equestrian team, said she’s always been very passionate about horses. “I never dreamed I would be able to work in a career that involves all of the things I love,” she said. “With our Horse Show, we have the platform to bring horses in front of so many people who might not otherwise have access to them. With my job, I get to share the magic of horses with so many people, whether they are people who already love horses or people who want to learn more about them.”

In addition to the various Horse Show events that take place in the Freeman Coliseum, the Horse Show Committee also operates the Horse Discovery Area. “We conduct seminars, demonstrations, and other educational programs to encourage visitors to learn more about horses,” she explained. “We give the public the opportunity to see horses up close and personal. It’s very rewarding to be able to do this.”

Hanner is also passionate about being part of an organization that gives back so much to Texas youth. “The college scholarships we give out are life-changing for so many young people,” she noted. “I went to college on scholarships, and they have had a great impact on my life and career. It’s so rewarding to be able to touch other young people’s lives in the same way.”

Blithe Wiley

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