Like so many other events in 2020 and those set for early 2021, the 42nd annual Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals has been forced to modify this year. Due to social distancing protocols and other COVID-based restrictions, the Circuit Finals have been forced to make a one-time exception and will be holding their event in Kalispell this year at the Majestic Valley Arena.
Also modified will be the dates. Normally a three-day, action-packed event, this year’s finals will meticulously arrange three rodeo rounds into two days. The first round will be held on Friday, Jan. 15, at 7 p.m., with the second round on Saturday, Jan. 16, at 1 p.m., while the third and final round will begin that same night at 8 p.m.
“Just having the finals is a big deal,” stated Jack Stensland, president of the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Board.
Rodeo is not a lucrative sport. While some professional athletes enjoy multi-million-dollar contracts, the income of professional rodeo athletes is completely dependent on how they place in their respective rodeo events. Making ends meet in the sport of rodeo usually requires participants to enter as many rodeos as possible, and Montana rodeo athletes survived a remarkable season as the COVID pandemic forced the cancellation of several rodeos and events.
“We started off with 34 rodeos in our circuit and then we added the five Big Timber Weekly Rodeos, so that was 39 possible rodeos this year. We ended up with 18 rodeos actually being held,” Stensland said.
With literally half of the Montana Circuit-sanctioned rodeos cancelled, the 2020 season certainly challenged the tenacity of even the fiercest rodeo competitor. In fact, rodeos were cancelled all around the nation, forcing competitors to make every single mark out and every single ride from the box count. The number of rodeos may have been down, but the quality of competitors was up across the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit.
Montana can be seen as a little off the rodeo beaten path, especially for many World Champion cowboys and cowgirls whose home bases largely favor states like Texas, California and other southwestern states. With less rodeos to choose from, high caliber rodeo athletes were firing up their diesel pickups and driving thousands of miles up north to Montana, just for a chance to compete.
Not only did the lack of rodeos lead to overall winnings being markedly down going into this year’s Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals, but Montana’s rodeo athletes often had to compete alongside their event’s most elite competitors, and that’s saying something.
“Take the Wolf Point Wild Horse Stampede for example. This year we had over 600 contestants and in all seven events we had 15-20 NFR qualifies from the last two years competing,” explained Stensland, who lives in Wolf Point and is instrumental in planning the town’s annual PRCA rodeo.
Despite the hardships Montana rodeo competitors may have experienced during the regular season, the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals will still be the quality event competitors have come to expect.
Thanks to the steadfast sponsors of the event, this year’s purse is still expected to be on point.
“The payout to our contestants is still going to be one of the largest, if not the largest, of any of the 12 circuits,” Stensland assured.
Five of Montana’s top stock contractors – Brookman Rodeo, J Bar J Rodeo, Sankey Pro Rodeo, JS Rodeo Company and New West Rodeo – will all be bringing their finest rodeo stock to this year’s event, ensuring contestants will be roping and flanking the best of the best.
It took some work to be able to even have a Montana Circuit Finals this year, but Stensland and other members of the Board of Directors were dedicated to offering some semblance of the event. The move to Kalispell, although greatly welcomed this year, is only temporary.
“We were bred, born and raised in Great Falls, so the Circuit Finals will be back in Great Falls next year,” Stensland said.
The Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals Board is monitoring the COVID situation closely and will be offering a limited number of tickets for sale. Tickets can be purchased after Dec. 15 and can be found at majesticvalleyarena.com.
If you want to support Montana Pro Rodeo and its contestants, you can do so by purchasing a Montana Pro Rodeo Cash Calendar. The proceeds from those sales help financially support the event. Calendars can be purchased by contacting Billie Harms at 406-223-5473.