Competitors, committees make 2020 season work

By JOE KUSEK

September 11, 2020

Tyler Houle was pretty much speaking for everybody when discussing the 2020 season for the Northern Rodeo Association and Northern Women’s Rodeo Association.


“It was a weird year,” said the Ronan steer wrestler.


But still just as exciting.


The COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc with the original schedule but the NRA and NWRA, propelled by hard-working committees working with county health departments, were able to sanction 13 events this past summer and crown 11 individual champions.


In fact, of the 11 championships for 2020, nine were still mathematically up for grabs going into the final weekend.


Year-end event champions for 2020 were: J2 Bridges, bareback; Houle, steer wrestling; Mikayla Witter, breakaway roping; Alan Gobert, saddle bronc; Jade Gardner, tie-down roping; Garrett Duncan, team roping headers; Matt Robertson, team roping heelers; Lindsay Kruse, barrel racing; Riley Barg, bull riding.


Ben Ayre won his first all-around cowboy title, while Tammy Jo Carpenter was the all-around cowgirl champion for the fifth time in seven seasons.


Ayre, of Glendive finished third in the final tie-down roping standings and was in the top 20 among team roping headers. The former two-time tie-down roping champion (2014-15) also competed in steer wrestling.


Carpenter finished second in the barrel racing standings and in the top 20 for breakaway roping. The Kalispell cowgirl won the breakaway roping title in 2015.


Year-end champions for the junior events were: Kierra Hougen, barrel racing; Hailey Burger, breakaway roping, all-around.


The 2020 winners will receive their year-end championship buckles and saddles at the NRA/NWRA Awards Banquet, scheduled for Nov. 14 at the Billings Hotel and Convention Center. The NRA/NWRA will hand out all its year-end awards at the event.


Financial impact from the COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of the NRA/NWRA Finals scheduled mid-October in Kalispell.


Bridges, Robertson and Kruse have won multiple year-end titles.


Bridges of Dillon, won his fourth consecutive bareback riding title and fifth overall. With three event wins and top-three finishes at four other rodeos, Bridger was the high money earner for 2020.


Robertson, of Augusta, showed his versatility with his second team roping header title (2008). The former National Finals Rodeo qualifier and PRCA rookie of the year was also the NRA team roping heeling champion in 2005. Robertson won money at NRA events with partners Shawn Bessette and Delon Parker.


Kruse, of Fromberg, added to her barrel racing collection, having also won in 2005, 2006 and 2012.


The NRA and NWRA was originally scheduled to sanction 22 events but 13 were cancelled because of the pandemic. The organizations were able to add rodeos in Malta and Opheim, along with roughstock showcases in Jardine and Darby.


Every rodeo in the abbreviated season became that much more important and competitors were willing to go the extra distance in pursuit of titles.


“The schedule forced you to be on the road a little more,” said Gobert who drove almost 2,000 miles across three weekends from his home in Browning for three event wins. Earlier in the year, he drove from Dubois, Idaho to ride his saddle bronc horse in Opheim.


“That was a long one,” he said. “But to get a title, all the miles are worth it.”


NRA and NWRA events attracted competitors from 10 different states and Canada. Cowboys and cowgirls from more than 80 Montana communities returned home with checks.


Among those attracted by the NRA’s quality of rodeos was reigning world champion steer wrestler Ty Erickson of Helena, along with former team roping champions Levi Simpson of Canada and Arizona’s Aaron Tsinigine.


Erickson won at Big Timber with a time of 3.1 seconds, believed to be the fastest steer wrestling time in the long, storied history of Montana rodeo.


Simpson, with partner Shay Carroll, placed second at Malta, while Tsinigine and Kyle Lockett were second at Deer Lodge.


The NRA and NWRA overcame unbelievable challenges to bring a successful season to its loyal fans and those involved are already working to make the 2021 better than ever.

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