Rodeos can teach children many life lessons, such as the rewards of being responsible, working hard and overcoming adversity, and all three of these were demonstrated by the nine youths representing Alaska at the National High School Rodeo Finals in Gillette, Wyo., last month.
The rodeo officially hailed as the world's largest was held from July 18-24 and was attended by 1,546 high school-age cowboys and cowgirls from 40 states, five Canadian provinces and Australia.
Alaska high-schoolers Jackie Rainwater, Jennifer Murray and Paul Campbell of Soldotna; Sierra and Rhianna Carr, Amanda Merchant and Michelle Schade of Homer; Josh Rappelea of Palmer; and Ray Smith of Anchorage put their skills to the test in the rodeo.
"The kids had some huge challenges to overcome," said Mary Rainwater of Soldotna, a chaperone on the trip.
July is quite bit warmer in Wyoming than in Alaska, even in a normal year. This summer temperatures have been abnormally high across the continental United States. This was a major challenge for the Alaska competitors.
"There was a jump in the temperature to the tune of 104 degrees the first day," Rainwater said, adding that the rest of the week the mercury hovered at a scorching 95 degrees.
"Only one contestant Amanda Merchant from Homer was able to bring her own horse. The other girls leased horses to compete with," Rainwater said.
This proved a tough task for the kids, who nearly all had only one day to get used to the equine partners they competed with.
However, Rainwater said the team still managed to put on a great show.
"Jennifer Murray (of Soldotna) placed 14th in the first performance of pole bending, and Jackie Rainwater won a $1,250 college scholarship from the Preston Hughes Memorial Scholarship Fund," Rainwater said.
This scholarship based on academics and personal interviews as well as rodeo performance is only given to two finals competitors who plan on entering the field of medicine after high school.
Rainwater said the Alaska bull riders also did extremely well, especially considering the caliber of stock they rode.
"The rough stock was professional level, which means that some of the bulls used would be the ones you might see on television during PBR (professional bull riding) performances," she said.
Rainwater said the young riders also had to contended with the new experience of riding under stadium lights at night as opposed to sunlight, which is almost perpetual in the summer in Southcentral Alaska.
Alaska won the "basket" contest, which Rainwater explained is based on state teams submitting a basket that is representative of their state.
"Alaska submitted a dog sled, which was made by one of our local dog mushers (Mitch Michaud, Soldotna resident and Peninsula Sled Dog Racing Association president)," she said.
The basket was filled with items from local businesses, such as vouchers for fishing charters, hotel rooms, fish processing and other assorted merchandise.
"What makes (their) performance so special is that you must consider that this is the first time Alaska has been able to have the ability to compete at the national level in all seven events in rodeo as a team," Rainwater said.
The next Alaska High School Rodeo will be Saturday at the fair grounds in Ninilchik. Sign-in for the rodeo begins at 9 and events begin at 10 a.m. The state competitors who went to the finals in Wyoming also will give a presentation about their trip.
For more information, call Ina Jones at 235-6455, Micah Robertson at 260-6127 or Mary Rainwater at 262-5568.
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