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Thunderbird Rodeo returns to Kitsap County

Winning the rodeo of the year award has left the producers of the Thunderbird Pro Benefit Rodeo a lot to live up to. But that’s one challenge they eagerly await.

“You got that right,” co-producer Don Frazier said. “It’s gonna be bigger and better than it ever was.”

After taking the top honor from the Northwest Professional Rodeo Association for last year’s Thunderbird — in only its third year of existence — Frazier said the all-volunteer rodeo is ready to raise the curtain on this year’s event, from an added barrel race to musical performances.

“In three years we’ve gone from the new guys to the best in the business,” Frazier said. “It’s a challenge to put one on as good as last year’s.”

To do so, the event has expanded a day, now kicking off with a BRN4D Barrel Race Friday, a $500 addition to the competition. Gates will open at 4 p.m. Friday followed by the race at 6 p.m.

Saturday and Sunday feature the rodeo itself, from bull and bareback riding to steer wrestling. Saturday kicks off at 7 p.m. and Sunday starts at 1 p.m. at Thunderbird Stadium.

Country singer Jonathan Harris will perform after Friday and Saturday’s rodeos, fresh from opening for Clint Black and Jodee Messina in Tacoma.

“That’s pretty exciting,” Frazier said. “He’s a big-shot kind of guy.”

But what Frazier and co-producers Colen Corey, John Rosebeary and Dan Crook are looking forward to most is the action on the arena floor.

With Kelly Bowcutt’s Gold Buckle Rodeo Company again proving the stock, Frazier said the top Northwest cowboys should follow.

“He’s got PBR bulls and some of the best horses you’ll see anywhere in the country,” Frazier said. “The cowboys follow the horses here.”

While the field of competitors isn’t finalized yet, Frazier said coming off the award-winning season also will help continue to draw the top talent. Frazier and Corey will announce the event again as well.

The event was pushed back a week this year, meaning it won’t be competing with as many Oregon rodeos on the NPRA circuit. In fact, only Tillamook, Ore., is hosting a competitive rodeo the same weekend. But with the introduction of the Pacific Coast Series, which awards points in events to cowboys who get totaled at the season’s end, worry is even less as the Thunderbird holds a triple-point event against Tillamook’s double-point rodeo. With only Tillamook in mind, Frazier said organizers were able to taylor the event so that cowboys could still compete in both.

In addition to the competition itself, Frazier said the Thunderbird will be a testing ground for new rodeo technology prior to August’s Kitsap Fair & Stampede.

For example, he said the Thunderbird will use new arrow pens. Shaped like an arrow with 12 individual pens, the action moves along smoother than with tradition pen styles.

“It’s designed to make things a lot more comfortable for the people running the stock,” Frazier said. “We don’t have to set them all. All we have to do is figure out which number is up and let ’em out.”

The only benefit rodeo in the NPRA, the Thunderbird raises funds for Corey’s Day on the Farm and the Northwest Burn Foundation.

Corey’s Day on the Farm brings special needs children from four counties to the Fairgrounds for two days to experience farm life. The Northwest Burn Foundation, which provides resources for burn victims and their families.

Last year, the event raised $8,000 for both organizations.

“Rain or shine, whatever,” Frazier said. “It really is exciting. I can’t wait for it to get here.”

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