Rodeo Technology

By Amira Khatib, Greater Des Moines CVB Intern

A hundred years ago, rodeo fans didn’t see an instant replay on the screen, let alone have the ability to check scores later on their computer if they missed anything. Although rodeo is a sport with major roots in our history, over time the way events are run has changed as technology has advanced. And with a new host city and venue also comes the opportunity to upgrade the technology used.070

Bryan Taylor, the main IT guy for NHRSA, created a special computer program for the rodeo in 1989 (yes, 25 years ago). He has been upgrading and adding features as the rules and technology have changed. The program allows for easy data input, such as keeping track of scores and contestants’ biographical information for the announcers.

“The biggest and best change so far is networking to each other so we can get the information back and forth,” said Bryan. They no longer have to run the information back and forth by hand, and can enter it from a remote location.

Many contestants might not even be aware of one new piece of technology being used this year. Widmer’s Rock ‘N Roll Arena (, a company based in Deep River, Iowa, installed green dot lasers in the Jacobson arena. The lasers replace the stakes that are traditionally used to mark the position of the barrels and poles in barrel racing and pole bending.

Although red dot lasers have been around for a while, the green dot lasers are a fairly new technology. They are stronger, and are best used for outdoor and high natural light applications. Jacobson is an indoor arena, but because of its clear ceiling it’s filled with natural light – making the green dot lasers a better option. The tractors no longer worry about looking for the stakes and positioning the barrels and poles is as easy as flipping a switch.

“It’s perfect. They make things quicker and there’s no chance for error. There’s no worries,” said Shannon Widmers, owner of Widmer’s Rock ‘N Roll Arena.

However, the biggest visible change to contestants and spectators this year is the installation of the first jumbotrons at the junior high level. The Jacobson arena features a 32’ by 12’ screen while the Pavilion has a 24’ by 8’ screen. The jumbotron is split with half the screen showing events happening in that arena and the other half featuring a live feed of the activities in the other arena. Now friends and family can catch all of the action in both arenas at the same time.

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By Blair Brown, Des Moines CVB Intern

The National High School Rodeo Foundation, which is a separate partner entity from the National High School Rodeo Association, manages all scholarships awarded through NHSRA and is funded by corporate sponsors, NHSRA, and the fundraising board.

Stephanie Rodrigue, who is from Louisiana, is currently in her fifth year as National Secretary for NHSRF, where she puts in a lot of hard work behind the scenes, making scholarships for junior high and high school rodeo contestants possible.

National Junior High Finals Rodeo contestants have the opportunity to gain scholarships through funds collected by a 50/50 raffle. Tickets for the raffle are sold Monday through Friday, where a drawing occurs every night. Half of the money collected goes to the winner of the drawing and the other half is used for scholarships. The raffle is the only fundraising event the Foundation does at the junior high finals.

“There are three major fundraisers at the high school level,” Rodrigue explained. Like the National Junior High Finals Rodeo, there is a 50/50 raffle. There is a golf tournament, where funds are raised through entries, hole sponsors, and tournament competitions. There is also a live and silent auction that occurs on Thursday.

Senior qualifiers for the national finals can apply for scholarships that range from $500 to $5,000. Those interested must complete an application which is available online or in the NHSRA Times. Applications must be submitted by 6 p.m. on July 13.

“At 1 p.m. on Wednesday, all applicants are interviewed,” Rodrigue said. “Scholarships are awarded on Friday at 3 p.m.”

This year, a new competition has been instituted in which the three associations that sell the most raffle tickets will be awarded $500, $400, and $300, which is a positive addition and adds another opportunity to raise more money for scholarships.

“NHSRA and the Foundation both avidly support secondary education,” Rodrigue said.

For more information on scholarship opportunities, visit the NHSRF’s Scholarship page at

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By Blair Brown, Des Moines CVB Intern

Rihanna, Pink, Jewel, they all have something in common with Michigan’s Mackenzie – they’re known by just one name. In Mackenzie’s case however, one name is all she’s got.

MAckenzie 2Her family carries her birth certificate around to prove she only has one name, just in case. The 14-year-old from Whittemore, Mich., is participating in this year’s National Junior High Finals Rodeo for the first time. She appears in the official rodeo daysheet as Mackenzie Mackenzie because the rodeo program isn’t equipped to handle a contestant with just one name.

After finding her interests sparked in rodeo, she asked her mom to sign her up and began practicing on her family’s horse, Zippo.

“I wanted to do everything,” Mackenzie said. “I want to be a rodeo star.” And she is doing quite a bit. Mackenzie will be competing in goat tying, barrel racing, pole bending, and light rifle shooting. Her first event was goat tying on Monday night.

“My favorite is barrels because I love the feeling of turning barrels, and you’re talking to your horse, and your horse seems to understand what you’re saying,” Mackenzie said, feeling optimistic about her chances this week. “I know that little pony can do it.”

The fact that she is participating in so many events is a perfect example of the ambition Mackenzie has towards life in general. Alongside competing in rodeo, she is an active participant in basketball, track and volleyball, is a member of MRHA and MHRA, attends local fair horse shows where she has won grand champion awards, is a member of 4-H, is on the A Honor Roll, and is student council president. She also likes to draw.

“I’m stuck on drawing horses,” Mackenzie said. “I have been drawing since I was 5. I just taught myself to draw, nobody taught me. I think they’re pretty good.”

Mackenzie 1Mackenzie and her family embarked on a 12-hour trip to the Iowa State Fairgrounds in Des Moines earlier this week. The family is required to travel a lot, considering they live in upstate Michigan, and rodeos are often held downstate, but it is their first time in Iowa. Mackenzie has been making the best of her trip; she has been careening through the campgrounds all week introducing herself to fellow rodeo participants.

“I love making friends,” Mackenzie said.

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Boone’s Battle

I’m expecting big things out of Boone Bartlome in 2014. In Boone’s case, however, big is a relative term. I’m hoping to see his right foot move, for instance. I hope the next time I see him, he’ll be able to shake my hand. I’ll say some prayers to that extent this month. I know how far he’s come already, but there’s still lots of progress to be made by the 16-year-old cowboy in this new year.

Boone with his dad, Shane, and mom, Dianna, at Craig Hospital.

Boone with his dad, Shane, and mom, Dianna, at Craig Hospital.

I visited the timed-event hand from Idaho’s District 2 on Dec. 17 at Craig Hospital here in Denver. He’d arrived there just before Thanksgiving after suffering a broken neck on a freak play as his Kuna Kavemen played Bishop Kelly in the first round of the state playoffs on Nov. 8. The bitter rivals came together for a prayer on the field as Boone was placed on a stretcher and driven away just minutes into the game.

“Just a few minutes before that, I was rocked on a kick return,” Boone recalls. “I got right up from that. When I got hurt, it really didn’t look that bad. I never lost consciousness, but it was the weirdest feeling as I was falling down. I was falling and sort of flipping onto my back, but it felt like I was floating.”

A knee to the helmet as he was making a block did the damage. Boone suffered a broken C-4 vertebrae and a cracked C-5. He’s since had a titanium plate fused into his neck. At first, he had no feeling from the neck down. Within a few days he’d regained feeling in his arms, but still battles to use his hands.

“We were sitting here just the other day and I asked him to squeeze my hand,” said his dad, Shane, who serves as the adult president of District 2. “When he did, at first I thought it was just a spasm or something. That left hand is starting to come around.”

Boone’s left side in general seems to be ahead of the right side. He can move his left foot, as well. The right side is apparently going to need more time to heal. He was hoping to rid himself of the neck brace he’s been sporting within a week of my visit.

Boone loves to hunt, and was supposed to head off for another trip after the game in which he got hurt.

Boone loves to hunt, and was supposed to head off for another trip after the game in which he got hurt.

Boone, his dad and his mom, Dianna, traveled to Denver because Craig Hospital is a leading institution when it comes to rehabbing spinal cord and head injuries.

“What they’re doing is teaching him to do what he can do at this point,” Shane says. “We don’t really know what will come back and what won’t. So they’re working with what he can do.”

Boone spends eight hours each day in various rehab treatments and education classes. He’s also heard from his teachers back home. They gave him a break last semester, but he won’t be so lucky in the new year.

“It’s the first time in my life I wish I could go to school,” Boone joked, adding that it’s hard to be patient as they wait for the swelling in his spinal cord to subside. “I broke my hand roping calves last year and was out six weeks. It felt like forever. I really want my hands to come back. You don’t realize how much you need your hands until you can’t do anything with them.”

While Boone tries to patiently work his way through rehab, his friends and family back home aren’t sitting around either. They’ve organized a handful of fundraisers to help defray his medical expenses. One coach at his high school even ran 42 miles in a 10-hour runathon to help raise money. The family hopes to leave Craig Hospital and return home to Idaho by the end of February.

“He has what they call an incomplete injury, since the spinal cord wasn’t severed,” Shane says. “With these types of injuries, there’s really no way to know what you will or won’t get back. There’s no prognosis on it. He just has to keep working everyday.”

Cards and letters of encouragement for Boone can be sent to: Craig Hospital, 3425 S Clarkson St., Englewood, CO 80113.

Updates are posted regularly on a special facebook page at:

To learn more about how you can help, please visit:

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Garden City Champions

By Kyle Partain, NHSRA Media Coordinator

Cody Devers likes the Kansas High School Rodeo Association so much, he drives all the way from Texas to compete in steer wrestling. Granted, the drive from his home in Perryton, Texas, to the high school rodeo in Garden City, Kan., the last weekend in September was only about three hours. Some NHSRA contestants regularly drive farther than that to compete in their home states.

Cody Devers

Cody Devers

The son of 1979 NHSFR Steer Wrestling Champion Marty Devers, Cody certainly looked like a chip off the old block when he took second in the second round at the 2013 NHSFR in Rock Springs, Wyo., last summer. Unfortunately, a no-time in the first round kept him from qualifying for the short round and a shot at adding a second national championship to the family resume.

Not to worry, Cody is well on his way to a return trip to Rock Springs in his final year of high school rodeo. He won both rounds of bulldogging in Garden City with runs of 5.33 and 5.16 seconds. Riding his own horse and having his dad on the other side as his hazer, Cody is confident in his ability to be successful this season.

“My horse is really fast and true,” said Cody of his 13-year-old horse. “Like today, I was late — about a foot off the barrier — and he caught me up and put me right in the five (second) hole. He was a little green when we got him. If you didn’t get off, he was going to go through the end of the fence. I always get off, even if I’m a little wide.”

Between rodeo and competitive baseball, Cody and his parents are used to spending time on the road, so the additional travel to compete in Kansas is no big deal.

Michaela Peterson is another senior who has one year left to accomplish all she can in high school rodeo. A 2013 NHSFR qualifier in goat tying, she’s hoping to get there in breakaway roping as well in 2014. She didn’t do much in the breakaway roping in Garden City, but she left town with the goat tying average buckle after runs of 7.765 and 7.989 seconds in the event. She placed second on Saturday and fourth on Sunday, but proved to be the most consistent goat tyer for the weekend.

A team roper, as well, Michaela hauls just one horse to compete in her three events. Danny, 19, has been her horse since she started junior high rodeo.

“Dad heeled off of him, but when I started junior high rodeo I trained him for breakaway,” Michaela said. “He’s been mine ever since. He’s pretty solid in the box. He likes breakaway roping the best.”

Timber Allenbrand knows a thing or two about breakaway roping. The sophomore won a national championship in the event at the 2012 National Junior High Finals Rodeo, and qualified for the NHSFR in both breakaway and barrel racing as a freshman. But her first trip to the NHSFR wasn’t exactly a dream come true. A broken foot (caused by a spooked horse in the pasture) and sick horses kept her from accomplishing much in Rock Springs.

Her foot and her horses were finally on the mend when she made the trip to Garden City, where she earned all-around cowgirl honors for the weekend. Competing in a handful of events, Timber was glad to see that the rodeo was co-sanctioned with the Kansas Junior High Rodeo Association.

“With the junior high, we get to space out the events a little more, which makes it easier for everyone who’s in a bunch of events,” she said. “My mom’s here and she helps me saddle the horses, doctors everyone and does everything that needs to be done.”

For more on the Garden City Rodeo, check out the October issue of the NHSRA Times.

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Kansas All-Around Cowgirl


Junior Paige Wiseman is the defending Kansas High School Rodeo All-Around Cowgirl, and she has every intention of grabbing that state champion buckle again in 2014.

So far, so good for the Paola, Kan., cowgirl. She won the girls cutting the last weekend in September in Garden City, Kan., and leads the state standings in that event. She’s also on top in goat tying and third in breakaway roping, and is placing in the top 20 in both barrel racing and pole bending.


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Remembering Kelby

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.

Wyatt Bice of North Dakota.

Wyatt Bice of North Dakota.

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.

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An Inspirational Story

By Kyle Partain, NHSRA Media Coordinator

Laying in a hospital room after a third of his right leg was amputated last October, Caleb Griffin never imagined he would give up rodeo. He might have wondered how long it would take him to get back to competing, but giving up the sport was never an option.

It couldn’t be. At that point, Caleb needed rodeo more than ever.

11-37 (32)“When you go through something like that, you have to find something that you love so much that you would do anything to get back to it,” said the 17-year-old Michigan cowboy. “Sure it was tough, but that’s just what you have to do. I was put in a situation where my instincts kicked in. It was fight or flight, and I had to fight.”

A car accident on Oct. 7 left Caleb’s knee a mess. Ligaments were torn and a an artery was severed. That caused a loss of blood flow to the leg, which led to the decision to amputate.

“They told me that I would have to start thinking about it,” says Caleb of the amputation. “Even if they saved it then, I might still have problems down the road. They had a prosthetic doctor come in and talk to me. I was told that it’s so much easier to get a prosthetic when you’re younger. Sure there was some sadness. This isn’t something I wanted to go through. I still have some times when I get down about it a little, but I had to surround myself with good people, friends who will always be there to help push me forward, rather than hold me back.”

If I included Caleb in a lineup of 10 cowboys, chances are you wouldn’t be able to pick out the one with a prosthetic leg. The accident was nine months ago, and thanks to physical therapy Caleb is getting around just fine. He got back on a horse this spring and earned a spot in Rock Springs, Wyo., this week along with team roping partner Tyler Kijac.

The two took a no-time on their first-round steer on Monday night. But if Caleb didn’t let an amputation get him down, he’s certainly not going to lose any sleep over a missed loop.

“Caleb is the most positive person I know,” says Tyler. “I hate to say it, but in a way it’s good something like this happened to him. I knew he wouldn’t quit.”

Before the accident, Caleb rode bulls, wrestled steers, team roped and even competed in tie-down roping from time to time. Since the accident, he’s gotten back to team roping and even ridden a couple of bulls. He’d like to wrestle steers, but the knee just hasn’t recovered enough to hold up to the wear and tear of the event.

“The hardest part about being here at the national finals is not being able to wrestle steers,” Caleb said. “I think that’s my best event, or was my best event. It’s hard because I knew I had a chance to do something there. I think I could have made three good runs and been in the top five with a chance to win it.”

Once again, Tyler jumps in to talk about how positive Caleb is. Caleb can only laugh.

“I don’t look at it like I’m that positive or inspirational,” he says. “People say they wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now. But if you’d told me a year ago that this is where I’d be, I would have said that I wouldn’t be able to do this, too. But rodeo is my life. I haven’t known anything else, or ever wanted anything this bad.

“Going through something like this opens your eyes to all that you have — your family and your friends — and just how important those things are.”

Those family and friends made sure Caleb never spent a day alone in the hospital. Cowboys gathered around his bed on Sunday afternoons to play cards. Along the way, they learned that Caleb is still the same cowboy he was before the accident. Maybe he can’t pass through an airport metal detector anymore, but nothing of importance has really changed.

“Some people think of rodeo as a hobby, but I never really thought of it that way,” Caleb says. “Rodeo is what I do, and nothing’s going to stop me from doing what I love.”

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I Was Framed

By Kyle Partain, NHSRA Media Coordinator

“I swear, I’ve neveIMG_0546r seen that brick of C4 in my life,” I told the various authorities this morning as their bomb-sniffing dog came through the National High School Finals Rodeo Media Office. Then they found a stick of dynamite, and well, the whole situation sort of escalated.

Of course, after spending most of the Monday morning performance trying to get my stinking internet connection to work, would anyone blame me if I just blew up the building and moved to the rodeo office instead?

You’re thinking I’m making this up, aren’t you? Truth is, I’m only making up part of the story. There really were dangerous explosives in the media office for about half an hour this morning. They were planted there by the local authorities, but it wasn’t in an effort to send me to jail. Actually, there were just using the media office in the training of a bomb-sniffing dog.

She was a cute little thing, but since I wasn’t covered in bomb-making materials, she had no use for me.

While the thought of explosives being hidden just a short distance from the main grandstands might be alarming, we should actually feel very safe during our stay in RIMG_0550ock Springs, Wyo. You see, a handful of law enforcement and military agencies are using our stay in Sweetwater County as a chance expand their training and test their real-world skills.

The 84th Civil Support Team — an Army/Air National Guard unit will be on the facility for the entire NHSFR run. The unit setup shop the day check-in began last week. They placed strange silver boxes and backpacks around the check-in parking lot.

“We come out to big events like this for public safety to monitor in case something were to happen whether it’s a terrorist attack or an accidental spill,” said Brian Carver of the unit. “We’re also here in case something does go down. We have people in place to help the local authorities: police, fire, bomb squad.”

Those silver boxes had a fancy name I can’t recall, but they monitored various gasses such as oxygen, explosives, carbon monoxide and other chemicals. The backpacks kept an eye on radiation levels, which are already naturally high in this part of Wyoming, according to Carver.

“Carbon monoxide is one of the things we monitor for, so with the truck fumes I’ll be getting alarms all day that I’ll have to silence,” said Carver just before check-in opened last week. “If something spikes or hits on another chemical, that’s when we have a problem. I could go sit in an office somewhere, but we’re hear to be a presence and if something were to happen we can stop a vehicle and contact law enforcement.”

The unit had also sent personnel toIMG_5280 a little rodeo you might have heard of just a few hours east of Rock Springs — Cheyenne Frontier Days.

“It is a real-world thing,” Carver said. “We do a lot of training, so it’s good to get out and use the equipment in the real world. It gives us a chance to work the bugs out of the system. Not that high school rodeo is a target for anything, but it is a big concentration of people, which doesn’t happen much in this part of the state.”

Big concentrations of cows are common in Wyoming, but big concentrations of people pretty much only happen in Cheyenne (during Frontier Days) and at the national parks to the north of here. Once check-in closed, the 84th Civil Support Team took on other duties in assisting law enforcement agencies.

This morning might have been the first time in my life that I was within a few feet of C4 and dynamite, and yet, I’ve never felt safer.

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Check-In Closes

By Kyle Partain, NHSRA Media Coordinator

Zalin Arritola and Cash Casey of Oregon were the last two contestants to clear check-in before it closed at 7 a.m. Sunday. A handful of other contestants still hadn’t checked in. All late arrivals must appear before the NHSRA Executive Committee, which then determines if they will be allowed to compete.

Oregon's Zalin Arritola and Cash Casey.

Oregon’s Zalin Arritola and Cash Casey.

The saddle bronc riders were in the area on Saturday night, but spent the evening at a hotel in Little America, Wyo., less than an hour from Rock Springs. Despite getting some sleep, the long drive from their home state left the two yawning as they checked in on Sunday. Zalin is also competing in team roping this week. On his official bio he listed the usual interests of football, basketball, rodeo and hunting, as well as croquet.

Just minutes before they arrived, two NHSRA national champions checked in at 6:47 a.m. Rusty Wright and his brother, Ryder — both sons of World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Cody Wright — drove all night from the Calgary Stampede to make check-in. Rusty, the 2012 NHSFR Saddle Bronc Riding Champion, won the novice bronc riding in Calgary. Rusty was the 2012 National Junior High Finals Rodeo Bull Riding Champion and is competing in both bull riding and bronc riding in Rock Springs.

With check-in complete, we’re set to get the NHSFR underway at the Sweetwater Events Complex. The student delegates will meet at 9 this morning, followed by the 11 a.m. contestant meeting. The first rodeo performance is set for 7 p.m. tonight.

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