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Prep rodeo championships hit Heber

Adia Waldburger, of the Record staff
A rodeo contestant is sent skyward by a bull on Thursday night.
2006069__2Sports

Somehow when kids do things, it just seems more authentic and when their activities include roping, wrestling and riding a wild bucking horse, it is as real as it gets.

This Wednesday kicked off the Utah High School Rodeo Association (UHSRA) Championships at the Wasatch County Fairgrounds in Heber City. A total of 350 participants from around the state are competing for slots in the top 10 of each event to compete in the championship round on Saturday evening at 5 p.m.

Although rodeo is not an officially sanctioned high school sport, the contestants show a level of commitment unparalled by many other high school endeavors. According to UHSRA media assistant Jana Brown, the season starts in August and doesn’t finish until the annual state championships. Winners of the state finals advance to the national competition and compete in July.

There are 34 rodeo clubs around the state each hosting a rodeo during the year. Points are accumulated at each event that allow the youth to qualify for the state finals. The North Summit club returned to the rodeo scene last year after a long period without a club and qualified two cowboys. The stronger South Summit club had numerous competitors make it to the state arena.

North Summit Rodeo Club secretary Tressa Stokes said that her club more than embodies what it takes to be a student athlete.

"A lot of training. A lot of commitment. They have to maintain a grade point, just like any sport and these kids are on their own," Stokes said.

Without local high school support, the cost of traveling, attending club rodeos, skills clinics and other expenses all fall on the youth and their parents. They are also responsible for the boarding and maintenance of their horses. Most of the kids practice five days a week and compete in other sports.

Brown says that the result of all the dedication and hard work is a very entertaining product.

"Their times might not be as fast as the pros, but they are just as competitive. It means a lot," Brown said.

Saturday’s final competition represents the elite among high school contestants in the state. UHSRA president Mike Brown says that of the roughly 800 members in Utah, only half qualify for the state championships, and a only a select few of those make it to Saturday night.

"You have the best here all week and the best of the best on Saturday," Mike said.

For rodeo novices, there will be a professional announcer guiding the fans through each event. Action will switch between the large and small arenas with events such as calf roping, bareback, barrels, saddle broncs and goat tying.

"The thing about Saturday is what kids have worked on all year," Mike said. "The emotions are high. You’re not going to get a better show anywhere."

The state finals also feature a number of other elements, including the crowning of royalty, senior and military veteran nights and a scholarship competition.

The top four in each event progress on to the national competition on Springfield, Ill. the third week of July. Mike says that the natural progression of the state winners to the national competition makes rodeo unique and more competitive than other prep sports. Forty-four states and five Canadian provinces will all be in attendance at the national event.

Stokes says a lot of the draw for the teens is just the mix of competition and a love for horses. She encourages all Summit County residents to come to the finals on Saturday, and any interested youth to get involved with one of the two county-based clubs.

"If there are kids that have horses and want to compete, then come down Saturday and see what it is all about," Stokes said.

Mike Brown agrees.

"These kids love their horses love to ride them, compete, just be around them," Mike said.

The finals will begin at 5 p.m. at the Wasatch County Fairgrounds in Heber. Tickets are $8 per person and may be purchased at the gate. For more information on high school rodeo competition or donating to the scholarship foundation, visit http://www.uhsra.com


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