By Adam Eisenbarth
The Ponoka Stampede is nearing, but for some cowboys, the focus is on Gillette, Wy., host of the National High School Finals Rodeo.
A number of local cowboys are gearing up for the big event, including team roper Mack Smith, who says it’s an excellent way to finish off his high school rodeo career.
“I’m pretty excited, I’ve never made it before and I’ve worked pretty hard to get here so it’s going to be fun. It’s always been my goal to make it to Nationals and I’ve just never made it before so now I’ve got my chance.”
Smith has teamed up with Grady Brandon of Barrhead to form a strong duo in the team roping. This has been their first year working together.
“It’s sometimes hard when you have two people trying to compete. There’s some people that you just don’t click with and it doesn’t work out but it seems to have worked pretty good with him.”
Coincidentally, another Ponoka team roper has teamed with a Barrhead cowboy.
Tyrell Gordon ropes with Kolton Schmidt, and the two have also qualified for Nationals.
Gordon went into the Alberta Finals in Ponoka as the team roping leader in district 2 and the success carried over as he too qualified.
In his first year of the high school rodeo he has quickly jelled with his new teammate. “You pretty much just have to have a good idea of what his game plan is.”
This will be Gordon’s first year at Nationals as well. He has also qualified for the Silver State consolation finals in tie down roping despite coming into the event in the last hole.
While he still has some time left in high school rodeo, Gordon is hoping to extend his rodeo career beyond high school, something Smith has already secured, with a scholarship in New Mexico.
“I’m just going to go to college and see where that takes me,” says Smith, who would like to keep rodeoing.
Gordon, 18, has similar plans and is already entered into this year’s Ponoka Stampede. He hopes to make the CFR Pro Rodeo Finals this fall.
Jessa Galloway will make a return trip to the NHSRF; last year she qualified in three events and this year she will compete in barrel racing.
The Grade 10 student admits she “didn’t do as well” as she had hoped in the Alberta Finals but looks forward to concentrating on barrel racing after just missing out on pole bending, finishing fifth. “They take the top four so it was a close call.”
“It’s really tough down there,” Galloway said of the international competition. “But we’re just as tough up here.”
Another local competitor is looking forward to Nationals. Sheldon Stretch finished second in boys cutting in the Alberta High School Rodeo Finals. “I was pretty happy with my performance.
He’ll be attending his first Nationals as well. “It should be a fun week. I’m hoping to make the finals.”
Stretch is looking to also find a college rodeo team to participate with in the future. He has two more years in high school however, and he’ll surely be in contention to head to Nationals again.
Nationals get underway July 18 and wrap up on July 24. With competitors from throughout Canada, the United States and Australia, the National High School Finals Rodeo is the biggest of its kind.