About 66 junior high students from across Montana gathered at the Ravalli County Fairgrounds Saturday and Sunday for the Montana High School Rodeo Assoc. Jr. High Division State Finals. It was the culmination of a season that began last August in Roy, Montana. The top four finishers in each event will advance to the National Junior High Finals in Gallop, New Mexico. That rodeo will begin June 24 and run through June 30th.
Throughout the season, contestants have been accruing points based on where they finished in each event. They only had to earn one point in order to qualify for the state finals but the more points brought into the finals in each event, the better their chance of moving on.
The weekend’s events featured two performances with 11 events each on Saturday with everyone competing and then the short go on Sunday. The top ten in each event came back Sunday for the short go. Points were awarded for both the finishes in the performances and the average of all three performances.
Some of the events are the same as any rodeo – tie down roping, team roping, bull riding, and barrel racing. Then there are the events these kids will do in high school rodeo – pole bending, breakaway roping, and goat tying. The break away roping and the goat tying are split into boys’ events and girls’ events. There are also two other events. Ribbon roping and chute dogging. Ribbon roping is a team event with the cowboy roping the calf, jumping off his horse and running down and mugging the calf. Once the cowboy has touched the calf, the cowgirl, who is on foot, can grab the ribbon and race back to the end of the arena. Chute dogging is basically steer wrestling only without horses. The steer is in the bucking chute and when the gate is opened, the cowboy must try to throw the steer in the fastest time.
The Bitterroot Valley team had a good showing at the event and will send five contestants to the Gallop rodeo. Jack Pederson and Kris Anderson of Hamilton won the team roping event. Pederson also was second in the chute dogging. Megan Harris of Florence also qualified in two events. She was second in the barrels after winning the short go on Sunday. She and her partner, Culley Morgan of Billings, finished second in the ribbon roping. Elizabeth Roberts of Hamilton won the barrel racing. Danae McNamera of Stevensville won the pole bending.
Roberts, who is 13, said this is her first year competing. She has competed in the Bitterroot Gymkhanas for four years. She thought it was a bit of an advantage to have the rodeo in the arena where she practices. “I’m really excited to be going to nationals,” she concluded.
Pederson and his mother, Robin Barber, were both excited as well. This has been Pederson’s first year. The eighth grader, who wears a big 10-gallon style hat, said he probably needed a bigger hat now because he was so excited.
“You never know what’s going to happen in rodeo,” said Pederson. “That’s why rodeo is so interesting.”
Barber probably summed up what all of the parents of the youngsters were thinking, “I’m a happy mom. All those miles paid off.”
For more photos, go to www.bitterrootstar.com