CONYERS - The annual Heritage Rodeo Classic is the latest victim of the down economy.
This month, Heritage High School's Touchdown Club, the booster club that organizes the event, decided to cancel this year's rodeo, which is usually held in April at the Georgia International Horse Park.
"The economy is so bad," said Becky Langley, a retired HHS teacher and coordinator of the event that started 15 years ago to help pay for renovations to the school's athletic field.
She said in the past, the club has had excellent sponsors for the event that helps raise funds for Heritage's football team.
This year, however, a lack of sponsors and projected low attendance made the rodeo a high risk for the club.
"Sponsors are the seed money for the rodeo," Langley said. "So many businesses out there are hurting; they don't have the extra money to invest or advertise."
Town and Country Chrysler in Conyers, a major contributor to the rodeo, and a few other businesses were ready to sign on as sponsors again this year. However, Langley said, club members felt that not enough money would have been raised for the school.
"(The club) felt that the risk outweighed the benefits this year," Langley said.
Chad Frazier, head football coach at HHS, said putting on the rodeo could cost tens of thousands of dollars, including renting the Horse Park facility and paying rodeo personnel.
"We are one rainy day from going into major debt when trying to do a fundraiser," Frazier said, adding that neither the Horse Park nor the rodeo company would reduce their rates.
He said his athletic program averages about $80,000 and $90,000 to run each year for field maintenance, equipment and travel, but he can adjust the budget based on the money that comes in, which includes some money from the athletic department and some from gate sales. The club also will plan other fundraisers this year in place of the rodeo, such as soda and dinner sales and possibly other community events that aren't planned out yet.
"As long as I know what I have to work with, I can make it work and adjust our plans," Frazier said.
Although the club canceled this year's event, they hope to be able to celebrate the 15th Heritage Rodeo Classic next year.
"We hope that if the economy improves, the Touchdown Club will see a way to hold onto the rodeo next year," Langley said. "It's received such a great deal of support from the community over the years."
Frazier said the only way the school could afford it is if the sponsorship and attendance steps back up and possibly if the Horse Park and rodeo staff cut their rates or allow the school to use its own concessions or vendors.
"I'd like to think we could bring it back immediately" if that all happened, Frazier said. "Nobody wanted to see it end."
Michelle Floyd can be reached at email@example.com.