By Kyle Partain, NHSRA Media Coordinator
For just a moment, Wyatt Bice must have wondered what it would be like to keep the certificate he held ever so briefly in his hands at the North Dakota High School Rodeo Association State Finals Rodeo about a month ago in Bowman. But a cowboy’s word is as good as any written contract. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t shared his secret pledge with anyone other than his mom.
At the awards ceremony, Wyatt talked about his friend and former competitor Kelby Indergard. The 17-year-old died in a snowmobile accident back in January, and his sweet smile and friendly demeanor were missed by all at North Dakota rodeos this spring. Wyatt asked Kelby’s parents, Kelly and Stacey, to join him on stage, and he presented them with the $1,700 Tod Slone saddle certificate he’d just won as the state’s top header.
He said something to the effect of, “We all know that Kelby would have won this anyway.”
I’m told there wasn’t a dry eye in the arena when it happened. Heck, there’s not a dry eye in my office as I type those words. I can only imagine what it would have been like for Wyatt to hand over the certificate to the first championship saddle he ever won. And I can only imagine what it would have been like for Kelly and Stacey to accept the award.
“After I decided, I asked my mom if I could do it,” Wyatt said. “She said if I won it, it was my saddle and I could do what I wanted with it. That was the only person I told until that day that I got ‘er won. I did feel some extra pressure, but I kind of felt like Kelby would help me, because he knew I was doing right by him.”
After arriving at the NHSFR in Rock Springs, Wyo., Kelly went by the Slone booth on Monday to order the saddle. The certificate program offers winners the chance to order a saddle that specifically fits their needs. Winners can chip in additional funds above the certificate value (if necessary) for a truly custom award. Wyatt was there, too.
“My dad ordered it and got a lot of custom stuff,” said Kelby’s brother, Seth, who as a freshman earned a spot in the team roping field at the NHSFR this week. He certainly assumed his brother would be in the field, as well. Seth was up with his partner, Hays LeMieux, on Friday night and the pair turned in a 7.17-second run, but broke the barrier and the penalty pushed their time to 17.17. “Kelby was obviously a real good roper. He was a people person, real nice and funny. He was just a good kid to be around.”
Many on the North Dakota team — both at the NHSFR and at the National Junior High Finals Rodeo last month in Gallup, N.M. — wore black arm bands with Kelby’s name while competing.
As for Wyatt, he also won the tie-down roping state championship and picked up a second saddle certificate.
“It was a hard decision to make, because I’d never won a saddle before, but it was the right thing to do,” Wyatt said.
Some might think it would have been easy for Wyatt to “forget” his promise from five months earlier. I doubt it would have been easy for Wyatt. Who knows, if he doesn’t make this pledge to himself on the way home from Kelby’s funeral, Wyatt might not have earned one state championship, much less two. State champions who win more than one certificate from Slone can even combine them to pay for one really nice saddle. But that’s not how Wyatt chose to use his two certificates.
People — both in and out of the sport — ask me all the time what makes high school rodeo so special. Stories like this remind us that it’s the members and the friendships they develop that make NHSRA a special place.
As a parent myself, I couldn’t really muster the emotional strength needed to talk with Kelby’s parents for this story. I apologize for that. Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children, and teenagers shouldn’t have to attend their friends’ funerals. But we can’t let the trials of this world dominate our lives. Instead, let’s remember Kelby’s smile. Let’s remember the friendships he had, and the fact that those friendships remain even after he’s left this world.