Saddle up

Rodeo team gears up for spring season

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Every weekend that Brandon Whitaker leaves for a competition he never knows how many of his teammates will show up.

"Sometimes when I expect to see a lot of Moffat County people there I hardly see anybody," the Moffat County High School sophomore said. "Then other times it's the exact opposite."

Whitaker is a member of the high school rodeo team. The team members don't have much in common when competing except a shared high school and the enjoyment of the sport of rodeo.

"The rodeo is its own unique sport," adult sponsor Denette Webber said. "It's all on an individual basis and mostly everybody travels separately."

Members of the team are on the road this weekend to the first spring rodeo in Montezuma County.

The rodeo schedule consists of two seasons -- one in the fall and one in the spring. Each weekend there are at least two rodeos held at each location -- one on Saturday, the other Sunday. The rodeo team is probably the most traveled of all the MCHS groups. Many of the members spend the night at the events in their customized horse trailers.

"I like the individual aspect of rodeo because if you go out there and do your best, you are probably going to do well," Whitaker said. "In football you could give your best and 10 other guys don't and you might not win."

Whitaker isn't completely by himself all the time when he's competing. He and freshman Justin Hegwer compete together in team roping.

Whitaker and Hegwer are two of 26 on the team for Moffat County. It is a team that has had a history of successful individuals. Last year was the first time in the five years that Webber has been involved that a Moffat County member didn't qualify for the national high school rodeo. The team currently has two national qualifiers in senior Kelly White and junior Tia Brannan.

Brannan, White and her sister Becky all missed qualifying for the national rodeo by one place last year. To qualify for the national rodeo a competitor must finish in the top four at the Colorado State High School Rodeo Association's state rodeo.

Webber said the growth of the CSHSRA has made it more difficult to get to nationals.

"There are 23 clubs across the state," she said. "That is up from last year and the increasing numbers put more people in there competing for nationals."

This year, 12 ropers and riders from the Craig area have scored points at one of the nine rodeos in the fall.

Chelsey Schnackenberg and Becky White are in the top 10 in pole bending. Brannan is in the top 10 in goat tying.

Webber said she expected a little more participation in the fall and that some of the team members had put in some long hours in the winter.

"One who I think will do well this spring is senior Brittany Carter," she said. "She has the experience and she's put in the work lately."

If Carter or any of her teammates perform well enough to place they can earn money for their efforts.

Depending on how many riders or ropers are in an event, either six or eight can place.

Rodeo is the only amateur high school sport in Colorado that the competitors get paid for their efforts. The prize money is to help cover the costs of travel and animal care.

The team will have a long drive back Sunday night from Montezuma County to get back for school.

"The kids are really good about being at school the next day," Webber said. "We get home sometimes at one or two in the morning."

David Pressgrove can be reached at 824-7031 or dpressgrove@craigdailypress.com

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