The Wisconsin High School Rodeo Association (WHSRA) held a 3-day competition rodeo this past weekend, at the Monroe County Fairgrounds, in Tomah. On Saturday, grey-billowing clouds and chilly temperatures set the scene for the high-energy event. Tomah is one of eight rodeos in the 2022-2023 season, which starts in August and ends in June, with State finals and then Nationals capping the season.
The young contestants sat in on a 9 a.m. meeting, where they listened to rules and updates from Darcy Parrish, current WHSRA secretary. She helps run the “Rodeo office on wheels,” also known as the Red Trailer. She informs the kids of both new and old information, pertaining to competition and rodeo matters. The Red Trailer is also where points and times are tallied, during the day’s competition.
When the meeting was over, the young men and women took their gaze off of the raised-podium speaker and set their sights on the day’s competition, sculpting out possible nuanced situations and scenarios they might encounter within their competitive routines.
For the rodeo girls, the events that they may enter include breakaway roping, barrel racing, pole bending, team roping, girls’ cattle cutting, goat tying, reined cow horse, the Queen Contest and shooting. For the boys, they can enter bareback riding, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, calf roping, bull riding, boys’ cattle cutting, team roping, reined cow horse and shooting.
The Herald caught up with a few of the contestants, after the meeting, and found out why the young women and men rodeo, how they got into the sport, as well as what their dreams and expectations might be for their future.
The 3 Amigas
Calynn Ollendick (12), Aislynn (pronounced Ace-lynn) Nelson (11), and Jocey Johnson (13) were all smiles, and all sporting their crisp, cowgirl hats, when speaking with the Herald. All three are from Tomah. When asked what drew them into the rodeo life, their answers varied.
“I got interested in the rodeo when I was 8-years old,” said Ollendick. “I have always been interested in horses, and I really enjoy this life, especially with my friends being here.” Calynn was speaking of Aislynn and Jocey, as the three stood shoulder to shoulder, bonded by their passion for rodeo and engulfed by the strong energies of camaraderie — the three Amigas.
Aislynn Nelson said that she got into the rodeo because her older brother was in rodeo. She also iterated that her grandmother had gotten her started. “I thank my grandmother for introducing me to horses at such a young age, I love them. My goals are to make it to Nationals, and hopefully make it into the NFR (National Finals Rodeo) someday,” Nelson stated.
Jocey Johnson started into rodeo, based on a family predisposition. “My mom’s family, when she was in High School, were in the High School Rodeo Association too. She [mom] was the High School Rodeo Queen. My grandparents have always had horses, but I really started into the rodeo about four years ago.” Johnson sees herself continuing on through high school and then seeing where her rodeo journey takes her, taking a more lucid approach to her future.
Also showing up to be interviewed was Kyan Nelson (14), older sibling to Aislynn. “I was around horses at an early age, and my older brother, Coy, got into the rodeo and I saw a path I would like to follow, making my own mark, of course.” Kyan’s brother Coy is currently participating in the college rodeo, and was riding over the weekend, as well. On whether he liked to ride team competition events or individual, Kyan told the Herald, “I like the individual because you are accountable only to yourself. If you make a mistake, it is on you and you learn from it.”
All of the interviewees participated in at least five events, but each of them had their favorite event that notched itself above the others. For Calynn, goat tying topped her shortlist. For Aislynn, breakaway roping was her favorite. Jocey said that her favorites changes up from time to time, but currently it is the breakaway. “It is one of my best events, and there is just something special about it. You can go out one day and be a 3 (a great score, 3 seconds) and other days you will miss.” In breakaway roping, a calf comes out and they have to try and rope the calf as quickly as possible.
Senior moving on
Wyatt Heer (18), from Plattville, is a senior and will be transitioning into college rodeo soon. “I will actually be going to the same college as Coy Nelson.” Heer started in Little Britches Rodeo, when he was 6 years old. “My mom was in rodeo in High School and my dad started later, in roping and my Aunt and Uncle are Tony and Carm Schneider, who put this rodeo on. They pretty much taught me everything, from an early age.”
On having that guidance from an early age, Heer said, of his Aunt and Uncle, “It is really nice because I can go to their house and practice whenever I want. I have spent multiple weeks at a time, at their house, practicing my roping.” Heer will be attending Iowa Central College, in Fort Dodge, Iowa. For the day’s events, Heer was doing tie down and team roping.
Toni Henry of WHSRA
Toni Henry, WHSRA committee member, helped to get the Tomah High School Rodeo going 10 years ago, when her middle son, Zach Henry, was a 6th grader. Toni spoke to the year-round commitment the kids undertake with the rodeo. “It is a lot of work. It is so different than your basketball and volleyball-type sports. They are in this for 365 days a year, feeding and taking care of their animals in the morning, before school and then, after school, the kids are exercising their animals, all the while trying to get good grades in school.” Earlier, the three Amigas had stated, with very large smiles, that rodeo would be a bit easier if school wasn’t in the way.
As encompassing as the sport is, many of the student athletes are also out for extracurricular sports, such as wrestling, football, drama club, basketball and even show choir. “I give high praise and kudos to these kids,” Henry said. “They are working with 1500 pound animals and trying to get them to do their bidding. It is a major accomplishment for them, whether they have a good competition or a not-so-good competition.”
From Little Britches to Alumni
Henry told the Herald that many of the kids probably started out in 4-H, then went on to Little Britches, then to Junior High Rodeo, High School Rodeo, with some even making it to the college level. “Some do make that dream come true, making it to the National Finals Rodeo (NFR). We have had alumni from Western Wisconsin Rodeo make it to the pros.” Henry mentioned Tim O’Connell, a bareback rider, who won the Wisconsin high school bull riding championship in 2010 and was four-time qualifier at the National High School Finals Rodeo (2007 to 2010).
Henry went on to inform the Herald that, although Tim O’Connel was from Iowa, he rode in Wisconsin. “If someone is in another state, but they are closer to us, they will join our association. We have kids here from Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, simply because we are closer for them to travel to than associations in their home state.”
Other names Henry mentioned were Jessica Routier, professional barrel racer, BJ Schumacher, professional bull rider, and Fred Boettcher – 1994 National High School Finals Rodeo bull riding champion. “I always tell the kids ‘Never say never, dreams can come true,’ it takes hard work and dedication.”
While henry was not really in rodeo, she was around horses from an early age. “I love to be that mentor and help the kids, telling them to never give up. There will be good days and bad days, just keep going.” Henry went on to thank the city of Tomah and all the sponsors, which she named for the Herald, but are too many to put in the story. “We needed an upgrade, and the city really came through for us. I really believe in teamwork. The saying goes, build it and they will come, and they are, thanks to the city of Tomah.”
Results from the weekend
Kyan Nelson – Tomah, won Junior High All Around for the boys this past weekend, with Johnny Harms - Plattville, taking Junior High Reserve. Junior High All Around Girls went to Lanie Brooks, of Sparta, with Junior High Reserve Girls being a tie between Saige Kite - from Oxford, and Kallie Parrish - LaValle. High School All Around Boys went to Justin Gukenberger – Marshfield and High School Reserve Boys went to Kade Parrish – LaValle. High School All Around Girls went to Raelynn Johnson – Broadhead, and High School Reserve Girls went to Brenna Ragatz – Cassville.
Alumni making Nationals
There are several recent WHSRA college Students going to college finals this year, which will be held in Casper, Wyoming, in June. They are, from Tomah, Coy Nelson – calf roping, Sierra Steele – barrels. Drew Lind, from Weyauwega, in Waupaca County, will be competing in bareback. Nick Pelke, of Mondovi, is headed to Nationals, for bareback. They have all climbed quite a ladder to be where they are now.
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