Circuit Finals brings best professional cowboys; starts high school challenge

Once again the best in Montana Pro Rodeo will be congregating in Great Falls to compete in the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals.The best cowboys and cowgirls will compete for year-end titles and a chance to qualify for the Ram National Circuit Finals held in Florida."This year the finals will be Jan. 16-18, which is one week later than it has been," said Jim Croff, president of the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit and who helps organize the finals each year.Croff said the change is only for this year."That is just the way the calendar fell this year," he explained. "Every few years there is a chance for us to go one week later and we do. That gives people a chance to regroup after the holidays and get their tickets."Tickets are on sale now at the Four Seasons Arena Box Office and Croff recommends not waiting."The earlier you get them the better seats you can get," he said.This year the top 12 contestants in each event in the state of Montana will be showing up."We have a good lineup and there are some good races going on there," Croff said. "Some of our contestants are coming right off the National Finals Rodeo."That is because Montana contestants are that good.But it not just the cowboys and cowgirls in the arena that make a rodeo a success; the people behind the scenes are just as important and just as famous in the rodeo world.Seven different stock contractors from Montana will provide some of the top stock in the nation to this Circuit finals. Will Rasmussen will be the announcer again. Judy Kesler is the secretary. Ruby Nygaard and Berva Dawn Kesler will be the timers. Brian Potter will be the barrelman."It's the barrelman's first year here so we are excited for that," Croff said.Pickup men riding again this year for the finals include Andy Bolger and Dalton Ward. And, of course, no rodeo could run safely without the abilities of the professional bull fighters who come in. This year Caleb Barrett and Al Sandvold will be taking on that responsibility.Also this year, the Ranch Rodeo will continue on Saturday. That is only in its second year, but it has proved to be a great success.Continuing with a long tradition will be the selection of Miss Rodeo Montana.This event, to select a young woman to represent the sport of rodeo and be an ambassador of the sport, is based on horsemanship, appearance and personality. Those events will take place the week preceding the finals with the winners introduced during the Circuit finals."What is new this year and what we're really excited about is our first ever High School Rough Stock Challenge," said Croff. "This is a brand new deal and the first one in the United States."This event came about to help recognize the youth who are competing at the high school level of rodeo and to ncourage other young competitors to get involved in the sport.Croff said the top six high school bareback riders and the top six high school saddle bronc riders in Montana will be invited to the finals to compete for their own purse and prizes."We are really excited about this," he said. "We are working with the high school directors to get this rolling and the kids are also excited."Billie Harms, who is in charge of media relations for the Montana ProRodeo Circuit, said the High School Rough Stock Challenge is an exciting new addition to the finals."Each night we will have three of the high school bareback riders and three of the high school saddle bronc riders compete," she said. "Then, on Sunday, the top three in each event will ride.""The kids are really excited for this," she said. "All but one of the bronc riders are from eastern Montana. We have three kids coming from Broadus. Great Falls isn't the shortest trip to make but all three of them are coming."Another rider is coming in from Jordan and still another from Miles City."The bareback riders are from the western side of the state this year," she said. "That was interesting the way it worked out this year."Harms is from the eastern side of the state and she said at the high school rodeos over on that side there wasn't a single bareback rider."That's why we are doing this," she explained. "To challenge them, to get them interested."Harms also said the high school competitors will be able to meet with the professional competitors and ask questions and learn from them."Then on Friday the high school riders will be able to meet with the PRCA judges," she said. "The judges will tell them what they are looking for at a professional rodeo so it will be a really informational opportunity for these kids as well."In addition, there will be a kiddie rodeo on Jan. 16, a cowboy auction on Jan. 17, a Cowboy Church on Jan. 18 and so much more. To enjoy any of the events held in connection with the Montana Pro Rodeo Circuit Finals, check out the calendar of events on their Web page at http://montanaprorodeo.-com/2014/.Tickets can also be purchased by calling the box office at 406-722-1481 or by visiting the Montana ExpoPark Web site at http://tickets.goexpopark.com.