Buckin’ broncos, clever cowboys

Rodeo bullfighters rush to the aid of Clint Craig, from Mena, Ariz., after his hand got caught in the rope after being bucked off Blowing Smoke during the second round at Xxtreme Bulls on Sunday.  - Photo by Jesse Beals
Rodeo bullfighters rush to the aid of Clint Craig, from Mena, Ariz., after his hand got caught in the rope after being bucked off Blowing Smoke during the second round at Xxtreme Bulls on Sunday.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

Everyone got more for their buck this year at the Kitsap County Fair & Stampede rodeo, bull and horse riders included.

The “bigger and better” trend continued this year whether it was the cowboys and stock on the arena floor or the events that take place around the rodeo.

“The rodeo went so well,” Stampede Rodeo Director Joe Drouin said. “They love it. It’s a letdown when it’s over; ‘Oh, it’s over already?’”

From Wednesday through Saturday, some of the top cowboys in the world showed up at the Kitsap Fairgrounds’ Thunderbird Arena to compete in everything from bull riding and saddle bronc, to team roping and barrel racing.

But all of that reflects back on all the volunteers like the Wranglers, Cowpokes and even the Fair Board who make the event possible.

“It feels very good to show the community that we do have good people here working,” Drouin said. “We’ve got the people to have a successful rodeo.”

From the fans’ perspective, things were a success on the floor, with a number of the world’s top competitors vying for the Stampede crown in their respective events.

Briggsdale, Colo., cowboy Royce Ford, ranked third in the ProRodeo Cowboys World Standings in Bareback Riding, won the bareback event with a final ride of 88, topping Bobby Mote, of Culver, Ore., the PRCA’s top-ranked barebacker. The win likely will be enough to vault Ford into second place in the standings.

In saddle bronc, it was Jesse Bail (Camp Crook, S.D.) and Ben Morrow (Grafton, Australia) sharing honors after their rides of 86. Bail, ranked 11th, could crack the top 10 after the shared win.

Ted Bert, the world’s No. 12 bull rider out of Modesto, Calif., took top honors in the Stampede bull riding finals, scoring an 88 that also could see him move into the top 10.

Durant’s (Okla.) Blair Burk took tie-down roping thanks to his time of 16.5 seconds in two go-rounds. Burk was ranked sixth heading into the Stampede.

Spencer Mitchell (Colusa, Calif.) and Cody Cowden (Merced, Calif.) won team roping, combining their two runs to a time of 9.4 seconds. It was a much-needed win for header Mitchell, ranked 42nd, and heeler Cowden, ranked 19th.

In Barrel Racing, seventh-ranked Brenda Mays (Terrebonne, Ore.) topped Linzie Walker of Conway, Mont., by just .09 seconds with her time of 17.19.

But no one got a bigger win than steer wrestler Lee Graves.

Graves, a Canadian cowboy from Calgary, Alberta, entered the week as the No. 2 steer wrestler in the world standings, trailing Los Alamos, Calif., cowboy Luke Branquinho by a little more than $3,200.

With a time of 8.9 seconds in his two rounds, Graves made up most of that gap, pocketing nearly $1,700 in the win.

Overall, the Stampede paid out a record $158,000 to its competitors. Last year, the Stampede paid out $120,000 and $113,000 was awarded to winners and placers in 2005.

But that’s not the only payout riders, ropers and wrestlers receive. Perhaps more than any other rodeo its size, the Kitsap Fair & Stampede is known for its hospitality.

“It’s fantastic,” Drouin said. “Hospitality, when you talk to the cowboys, it starts with all the different kinds of payback.”

“It’s great,” bull rider Logan Knibbe (Rockdale, Texas), also the Xtreme Bulls winner, said. “Good hospitality. The people were really nice. It’s a good rodeo. I’m definitely coming back.”

In addition to plenty of good eats, competitors can bring their families, have access to professional massages in addition to medical assistance, and of course, the benefits of the Kitsap Peninsula.

“They want to bring their families,” Drouin said. “They enjoy their time here. One caught a 25-pound fish. I haven’t done that. There’s lots to do around here.”

Even those that didn’t walk out winners enjoyed the Stampede.

“(Team roper Mike Arnold) finished his final run, he missed his time,” Drouin said. “He didn’t win. But as he was riding out, he said, ‘Thanks for everything. I’ll be back.’”

The event also was successful for reasons reaching far beyond the confines of Thunderbird Arena. At Friday’s packed performance, competitors, fans and everyone in between donned different hues of pink in support of the Wrangler Tough Enough to Wear Pink program, benefitting Harrison Medical Center’s Oncology Services, which provides stress reduction and other non-medical services to patients and their families.

Tough Enough to Wear Pink organizer Julie Johnson said the event was definitely a success.

“People have been very supportive,” Johnson said. “We sold all our bandanas.”

In addition to the sold-out hot item, T-shirts, bracelets, pins and more were sold, raising more than $10,000 for the program.

“That’ll go a long ways, so that’s cool,” Johnson said. “Now we’ll start planning for next year.”

Last year, the benefit secured funds for the Susan G. Komen Foundation, raising about $6,000. But even better than the fact more money was raised was the fact that it stays even more local.

“To me, it’s so important to do this local,” Johnson said. “These are the people that live here. It impacts them. Harrison is doing a great job.This program provides all the things (patients) remember when they leave.”

Rodeo announcer Randy Corley, a Silverdale resident, said it was a great program.

“That’s a great thing, a great cause,” he said. “It’s good to be associated with that, not for publicity, but to help out with a cause like that.”

Even behind the scenes, where Wranglers and others worked to keep stock moving where they needed to be, went with few bumps.

“What went right? Everything went right,” Drouin said. “We had great cowboys, great contractors. That’s the big portion of it.”

But it didn’t just come together overnight either.

“All year long, they think about what we can do to make it better,” Drouin said. “All year long, we make these little changes.”

This year, that included adding more holding pens to accommodate more stock. That was a big hit with contractors. In fact, the group is already looking at changes next year, including widening the alleyway between holding pens to be able to run the feed wagon up and down the line, feeding stock more efficiently.

“They were very pleased with the number of pens around,” Drouin said. “For next year, we’ll help ’em feed all the stock.”

But contractors weren’t the only ones leaving pleased.

With stands packed each night but Thursday’s usual mid-rodeo lull (attendance was still high however), the Silverdale Thunder, where fans pound their feet on the metal bleachers, was roaring over the arena floor.

“And the fans here, we’ve got all these fans,” Drouin said. “They bring the energy. Everybody does better with that energy coming through.”

“The show is good enough that it takes care of itself,” Corley added. “It’s good. They’ve done a great job here this year.”

A job Corley said he hopes translates into continued success after twice being nominated for PRCA Rodeo of the Year.

“All these people live in this community, they’re volunteering their time,” Corley said. “They don’t get a lot of recognition.

“But they sure deserve it.”

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