Numbers adding up to another great NRA season
By JOE KUSEK
July 28, 2021
Everyone involved agreed that they were heading into uncharted territory for the 2021 rodeo season.
The COVID pandemic wreaked havoc with the 2020 schedule, limiting the Northern Rodeo Association and Northern Women’s Rodeo Association to just 13 events, less than half of previous years.
They were also forced cancel the popular NRA/NWRA Finals, which helps determine the year-end champions, because of financial constraints.
How would the Mountain Health Co-op Tour fare for 2021?
“Coming off of 2020, there were a lot of unknowns,” said Theresa Sorlie, the executive secretary for the NRA/NWRA. “Comparing back to 2019, we are up all the way around. I think we have exceeded our numbers.”
And the numbers don’t lie.
The synergy between hard-working rodeo committees and contestants eager to get back into the arena has made it a banner year for the organizations.
Using 2019 for comparison, membership is up, “The numbers for our new members is insane,” Sorlie said and entries are up.
There are 28 rodeos on the Mountain Health Co-op Tour this summer, scheduled from corner to corner across the state.
Entering the stretch run in August, there are 10 rodeos remaining for competitors to jockey into the top 10 of the standings and qualify for the Finals, scheduled Oct. 28-30 in Kalispell.
Through the end of July, contestants from 100 different Montana communities have returned home with money in their pockets from sanctioned events. So strong is the Mountain Health Co-op Tour reputation, entries have included cowboys and cowgirls from five different states and Canada.
More than $350,000 has already been paid out and with conclusion of the regular season on Labor Day weekend, that number will surpass a half-million dollars.
This year has seen an infusion of national teenage talent, along with a group of women from the national champion Montana State University rodeo program all over the standings. Brice Patterson of Bozeman leads both the all-around cowboy and bareback riding standings while Bella Fossum of the Bobcats is atop the standings for all-around cowgirl and barrel racing.
The bareback standings are dominated by teenagers while four of the five top breakaway ropers competed for MSU.
“We’re all friends,” said Fossum of the Bobcat contingent. “We cheer for each other and like to see each other do well.”
The NRA and NWRA has had a long relationship with high school contestants, offering a discount on their permit or free permits to the state champions.
“You can see the influence of the high school kids,” said Sorlie. “We’re excited to be growing and bringing in new members.
“Obviously, the future does look bright.”
Sam Petersen of Helena recently won the all-round cowboy title at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Petersen finished second overall in both bareback and steer wrestling.
He was joined by Kaleb Norstrom (bareback), Alexis McDonald (barrel racing) and Caden Fitzpatrick (bull riding) who had top eight finishes.
But those watching the Mountain Health Co-op Tour this summer already knew about their talents.
Petersen is fourth in the NRA bareback standings with wins at Gardiner, Big Timber and East Helena.
Norstrom, of East Helena, finished was third for bareback riding at the high school finals. He is second in the NRA standings.
Gardiner’s Alexis McDonald followed family tradition with a fifth place in barrel racing. Older sister Shai also had some top-10 finishes at the high school finals. Alexis returns to Montana second in the NWRA standings. She won at Wilsall this summer and was second at Gardiner and Harlowton.
Caden Fitzpatrick was eighth in bull riding at Lincoln. The Polson teenager is also eighth for the NRA standings.
At Eureka last weekend, Payton Levine proved she can rope with the adults. The Wolf Creek teen won the breakaway roping in 1.9 seconds, the fastest time of the year. She also won the breakaway roping.
Andrew Evjene of Two Dot won his fourth saddle bronc title while Kevin Peterson of Dillon edged Quinn McQueary of Wolf Creek by one-tenth of a second to win the tie-down roping. Polson’s Kenna McNeil was a scant two-hundredths of a second ahead of Alicia Bird in the barrel racing.
The Mountain Health Co-op Tour is off this weekend, allowing competitors and their horses a chance to rest.
The Tour hits the dirt again on August 5 in Dodson, followed by Superior and Townsend, both August 6-7.