The pinnacle of the provincial high school rodeo season goes this weekend in Ponoka, with plenty of representation from Stettler and area cowboys and cowgirls.
Nine residents of Stettler and Big Valley have qualified for the Alberta High School Rodeo Association provincial finals, which are set for Friday through Sunday at the Ponoka Stampede Grounds.
“It’s nice to have Ponoka as the finals (host),” said Stettler cowboy Quinton Van Straten, who qualified in tie-down roping in his rookie high school season.
“We’re central Alberta and we have the biggest district, so I think it’s a nice thing that we get it in Ponoka. We get to rope at the stampede grounds. It’s a nice arena. A lot of world champions, Canadian champions, have roped there. It’s a good place to rope and build your confidence.”
Zeke Thurston, 17, of Big Valley steps into his third and last provincial high school championships with an abundance of confidence. He has made the grade in four events and is sure to be a busy boy this weekend.
That’s just the way he likes it.
“I just do more events than everybody else, and I guess it works out,” Thurston said. “I’m pretty busy at the rodeos, but it’s better than going there and sitting around for one event.
“It’s a pretty good time. It’s fun. I’m just going to go there and try my best and wait for the outcome, I guess.”
Thurston had a standout season in the District 2 circuit.
He was the runner-up to Meeting Creek’s Layton Green in saddle bronc, and also reached provincial standards in bull-riding, tie-down roping and team roping.
“Probably the Roughstock events — the bullriding and bronc-riding — are my strongest,” Thurston said. “I’ve been raised around a roughstock family and the ranching lifestyle and everything, and I’ve been doing it quite a bit longer.
“But I really like the calf roping and stuff.”
Thurston — whose father Skeeter was a multiple Canadian Finals Rodeo competitor — partners with Jayne Lauweryssen of Big Valley in team roping.
The District 2 season champions in team roping were Lauweryssen’s brother, Ben, and his partner, Riley Chalack of Carstairs.
Other local qualifiers in team roping include Big Valley’s Brooke Skocdopole (with Shayna Gagnon of Innisfail) and Stettler’s Connor McComish (with Klay Rowley of Tees). McComish and Rowley placed fifth in the district.
Goat-tying entries from the area include District 2 champion Dani Potter of Stettler, fourth-place finisher Jayne Lauweryssen, and Big Valley’s Allie Hiemstra, who was fifth in the district.
“Dani Potter is a real tough competitor,” Van Straten said. “She’s just real good at what she does and I think she’s got a real good chance of doing well this weekend.
“I think all of the qualifiers from the Stettler and Big Valley area have a real good chance. We’re all going into the weekend in a decent place.”
In breakaway roping, Jayne Lauweryssen was the season leader in the district, and Skocdopole was sixth.
The rookie qualifiers for the provincial finals include Van Straten and fellow Stettler entry Nikki Vanderlee, who competes in barrels.
“Nikki had a real strong year and I had a good year myself,” said Van Straten, 15. “I was real happy. I set a goal at the beginning of the year to make the finals, and I have, so it’s a big accomplishment.
“In the high school (rodeos), it’s a lot tougher competition, dealing with kids that are the ages of 18 and down. You’ve got to really sharpen up and be at the top of your game to compete against those guys. It’s an honour, and you earn the respect of everybody when you make the high school finals.”
Last summer, Van Straten was a national champion at the junior high level. He’s now finishing his Grade 9 studies at William E. Hay Composite High School in Stettler.
McComish, Potter and Skocdopole are part of the graduating class of 2012 at William E. Hay, where cowboys and cowgirls are in short supply.
“It’s different, but people respect you for it,” Van Straten said of rodeo participation.
“A lot of the teachers think it’s good that we keep it up.
“There’s a lot of people around the Stettler-Big Valley area that have rodeoed over the course of a long time. It’s good to keep that tradition alive. Rodeo is a very Canadian thing, and we’d like to keep it going.”
The District 2 champion in bull-riding was Delburne cowboy Shane Peters, with 93.50 points. In second place was Consort’s Brant Jones, with 70.75 points.
Three districts are competing in the provincials.
JOHN MACNEIL, Independent editor