Bulls with Benefits

Mark Black, from Hammett, Idaho, roped his calf in 13.4 seconds Saturday night. - Photo by Jesse Beals
Mark Black, from Hammett, Idaho, roped his calf in 13.4 seconds Saturday night.
— image credit: Photo by Jesse Beals

In the battle of man versus beast, one final rider was left standing.

At Sunday’s Thunderbird Pro Rodeo, the bulls were winning, giving nine consecutive cowboys an up-close and personal introduction to the Thunderbird Arena floor.

But with eight strong seconds, Joe Meling changed everything.

Meling, a Pendleton, Ore. cowboy, was one of more than 240 cowboys (20 bull riders) to turn out for the Thunderbird Pro Rodeo, a benefit for Corey’s Day on the Farm and the Northwest Burn Foundation. After watching nine riders go, and get violently bucked, before his turn Sunday, Meling was eager and ready.

“It feels good,” Meling said after being the only rider Sunday to finish his run. “They have an awesome pen of bulls here. The guys got to enjoy getting on good bulls. Especially when everyone is getting bucked off.”

Riding Blackout, a bull he started eyeing last fall, Meling lasted the distance through the bucking, spinning and every combination in between to earn a score of 85, good for a first-place tie with Andy Crozier of Aumsville, Ore.

“It felt good. I saw him go a lot,” Meling said. “This was the first time I was able to get on him. I’ve been waiting to ride him for a long time.”

But beyond the action on the arena floor, this weekend’s Thunderbird Pro Rodeo was a way for the rodeo community to give back.

“If us coming out and riding on some bulls gets more fans in the stands, and more money to the foundations, then it’s fun to help,” Meling said. “It’s nice. A lot of rodeos are starting to do that. I think it’s a great thing for the sport to be doing.”

Thunderbird co-producer and co-announcer Don Frazier said the event did a great job of fusing competitive rodeo with a benefit for charity.

“This ain’t some podunk rodeo,” Frazier said. “This is a big rodeo. And the reason we’re doing it is a good reason.”

Co-producer and arena director John Rosebeary agreed.

“We do rodeo because it’s what we do,” Rosebeary said. “If we were playing basketball or driving NASCAR, or anything else, it’d be the same. This is a benefit. It’s not your typical rodeo. We love to raise the money. They’re good causes.”

Many of the rodeo’s participants, like Poulsbo’s Robbie Olsen, have helped volunteer at previous Corey’s Day on the Farm events, which brings special needs children from four counties to the Kitsap Fairgrounds during two days to experience life on a farm. This year, the rodeo added another benefactor, the Northwest Burn Foundation which has a mission of preventing burns and improving the quality of life for burn survivors through programs, education and research.

Olsen, making his pro rodeo debut at 16 years old, said he enjoyed the times he’s volunteered at Corey’s Day.

“Just working with all the kids and stuff there, talking to them,” Olsen said.

Being able to make his pro debut to benefit them was even better.

“It’s been fun,” Olsen said. “It’s kind of hard every now and then.”

Olsen drew one of last year’s Northwest Professional Rodeo Association (NPRA) finals bulls to make his debut, lasting about 4 seconds before finally joining 17 other riders on the weekend in getting a face full of dirt.

“Yeah. I actually laster more than a couple seconds,” Olsen said, happy with his first pro ride. “Past the first jump anyway.”

A junior rodeo competitor, Olsen said there’s a big difference — a few hundred pounds big — between the bulls he’s used to and the bulls he saw this weekend.

“It’s kind of weird,” Olsen said. “I’m used to the junior rodeos. There’s not any big bulls like there are today. The ones I usually ride don’t jump out like these do. Ours are slower, easier to ride.”

The action on the floor featured some of the NPRA’s finest riders, ropers, wrestlers and racers, as evidenced in Crozier’s tie. Crozier is the No. 2-ranked bull rider in the most recent NPRA standings, released June 19.

In bareback riding, Silverdale’s Jake Olson wasn’t able to score during his run Saturday, instead watching Culver (Ore.) cowboy Brian Bain (ranked fourth) win with an 88 ride. Mark Gage, of Homedale, Idaho, won the saddle bronc competition, an event he’s ranked second in in the NPRA, thanks to a score of 78.

For the ropers, Ellensburg’s Jason Minor had the top tie-down roping time, securing his calf in 8.5 seconds. Not surprising as Minor is the association’s top-ranked roper. The combination of Trevor Bott and Steve Johnson took the team roping event, roping the head and feet of their calf in just 5.7 seconds. Bott is currently the No. 3-ranked header while Johnson is fourth among heelers.

Cody Jess of Grand Coulee was the top breakaway roper, needing only 2.9 seconds to rope her calf. Jennifer Casey, the NPRA’s No. 1 breakaway roper, fired just short on her Thunderbird run while Silverdale’s Lylan Corey, last year’s rodeo queen and No. 8 roper, timed a 3.8, placing her fourth on the weekend. This year’s queen was Megan Dano of Poulsbo.

Corey also competed in barrel racing, but wasn’t fast enough to catch Jerita Belyea (Hermiston, Ore.), whose time of 17.8 was one of just three sub-18 times on the weekend. Belyea is ranked sixth in the event. The No. 1 racer, Kelly Wallis, logged a time of 18.10, the second-fastest Saturday but just sixth overall.

In steer wrestling, it was Jesse Sleeman, of Roy, grappling his steer to the ground in 3.4 seconds. Sam Willis, the top ranked cowboy in the event, had the second-fastest time at 4 seconds flat.

The stock too, provided by Gold Buckle Rodeo Company, put on a show for the fans, as evidenced in the lack of complete bull rides.

“We had an absolutely unbelievable rodeo,” Frazier said. “That was a tough, tough pen of bulls and horses. And it was all the best cowboys in the northwest, a lot of good, local people.”

Getting that feedback first hand from the cowboys themselves helps validate not only the rodeo, but the causes.

“They’re all here for the same reasons,” Rosebeary said of the cowboys. “I was talking to (Roy’s) Matt Erb. He says, ‘I wouldn’t miss this.’ It’s one of the best in the pro circuit.”

But again, the best part of the rodeo was seeing the approximately 3,000 people turn out this weekend to support the Northwest Burn Foundation and Corey’s Day on the Farm.

“The whole rodeo went off without a hitch,” Rosebeary said. “Our sponsors this year were great right on down the line. That’s one thing that made it so successful this year. And when it’s all said and done, we’ll give a lot of money away.”

Winners like Meling won’t be the only one’s leaving with checks.

“Any time you can win one, it’s a good feeling,” Meling said smiling. “And it sure makes the banker happy.”

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