Junior Parada Royalty

Junior Parada Royalty ride in the 2019 parade.

FLORENCE -- The 89th annual Florence Junior Parada youth rodeo, Florence’s Thanksgiving weekend tradition, returns with three days of competition, Nov. 26-28, at the Charles Whitlow Rodeo Arena, 3 miles south of downtown Florence on State Route 79.

Admission is free this year, to see contestants ages 5-18 in the world’s longest-running youth rodeo compete for buckles in roping, riding, barrel racing, goat tying and more. Saddles will be awarded to the all-around cowboy and cowgirl Sunday afternoon. This is an official Arizona Junior Rodeo Association event.

Rodeo competition will begin at 2 p.m. Friday, featuring more than 200 contestants, and will resume at 8 a.m. Saturday. There will be a grand entry of contestants at 1 p.m. Saturday, followed by the performance until 4 p.m. The rodeo resumes at 8 a.m. Sunday.

In downtown Florence, the rodeo parade begins at 10 a.m. Saturday on North Main Street. At 4 p.m. Saturday, Padilla Park (behind Silver King Marketplace at Sixth and Main streets) will host a free street dance. There will be a beer garden, and the bands will begin playing at 5 p.m.

The Florence Town Council is interested in residents’ and visitors’ opinions of the Charles Whitlow Arena. Please take the time to respond to this survey. Click this link below to access: https://polco.us/.../floren.../charles-whitlow-rodeo-grounds.

Bill Foster, grandson of Junior Parada founder Charles Whitlow, is the organizer of this year’s event.

Beginnings

As the United States suffered in the depths of the Great Depression, the Parent Teachers Association in Florence was looking for ways to raise money for undernourished children. Whitlow, a professional roper and rancher, was appealed to.

Proceeds were used to buy milk for local children, and it was often called the “milk rodeo” in the early days. The first audience was purely local and most of it came with the expectation of being bored. The exhibition, however, was an amazing one.

The show was governed strictly in accordance with professional rules. Boys and girls came from far and near to enter the contest. Though the show had many imitators, it is still recognized as the first and best of its kind. Over the years celebrities such as movie star Gene Autry, Leo Carillo-Pancho from the TV series “Cisco Kid” and Ken Curtis of “Gunsmoke” contributed time and money to the show and were grand marshals in the parade.

In 1956 the Pinal County Sheriff’s Posse took over the obligation of staging the annual rodeo. The proceeds always went to youth organizations and youth charities. Many eventual rodeo champions had their start in the Florence arena. Thus, the town slogan “Cowboy Cradle of the Great Southwest” has a real meaning.

Jr Parada Podcast 2021
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Mark Cowling is the county reporter for PinalCentral and covers the town of Florence, San Tan Valley and the surrounding area. He can be reached at mcowling@pinalcentral.com.

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