New and unique
Those who are familiar with the state of South Dakota know that nothing quite represents the culture like the state sport of rodeo. It is no surprise that South Dakota was the state to host a new and unique high school rodeo within its borders.
The Cinch Team Rodeo Varsity Cup was held Wednesday, May 30. The event was hosted by the Sturgis Booster Club and sponsored by Cinch Jeans and Shirts. With its unique format, the rodeo invited seven high school rodeo teams to compete in a tournament-style rodeo against other schools. The seven teams included the Wall Eagles, New Underwood Tigers, Faith Longhorns, Sturgis Scoopers, Phillip Scotties, Belle Fourche Broncs and Rapid City Cobblers.
The New Underwood Tigers clawed their way to a win at the inaugural event. The New Underwood Rodeo Club was awarded $1,500 by Cinch. Each event winner received a smaller cash prize and earned 10 points toward their team’s total. Second place winners earned their team 6 points, third place was worth 5 points, fourth place received 4 points, and so on. Cinch Jeans certificates and cash prizes were awarded down to third place.
Rorey Lemmel, an accomplished professional rodeo announcer and involved rodeo parent, is credited by the competitors for helping the event take place. Lemmel says, “This was Cinch’s idea, I just happened to do some things for them and I have a son on the rodeo team in Sturgis so I just brought the two together and thought it would be fun to do it there. Rodeo is pretty prevalent in South Dakota, and our state sport, and Cinch was all about marrying the two.”
Lemmel says the selection of schools was based on their ability to provide competitors in all, or nearly all of the events. He says, “Every one of them had won a team title before [at the South Dakota State High School Finals Rodeo].”
New Underwood was one of the few schools that sent a full team, as several schools fell short in the bareback riding category. New Underwood senior, Marty McPherson says, “I thought we had a pretty good chance, because we had all our events filled. There were only two or three bareback riders, so that was kind of an advantage.” His teammate, Kassidy Caspers, says, “We all knew we just had to go out there and get stuff done and just be smooth and get a couple points. We all ended up doing that, which was really cool.”
Both McPherson and Caspers were major point earners at the Cinch Team Rodeo Varsity Cup, along with Kassidy’s little sister, Tessa. McPherson won the tie-down roping, Tessa clinched first place pole bending points and Kassidy was second in the breakaway roping.
It was a tight race to the end of the rodeo. Lemmel says, “It really came down to the three smallest schools. Granted, those are big rodeo schools, but it came down to the bull riding and Faith could have won it, New Underwood or Wall.” Tessa adds, “There was never one team that was so far ahead. We were competing the entire way. That made it really fun.”
The team that New Underwood High School sent went through a qualifying process. “Our rodeo club had a little qualifier rodeo at the New Underwood fairgrounds. It was just a two-head match and you entered whatever events you wanted to qualify in and whatever events you won, that’s what you went to Sturgis on,” says McPherson. Lemmel says, “It’s no secret that it was kind of based off of wrestling. I wanted these rodeo kids to ‘wrestle off’ for their positions. New Underwood had playoffs for it. That’s how they got such a good team.
Lemmel states that this rodeo was designed with the outstanding Sturgis Brown wrestling program in mind. He credits the National High School Athletic Coaches Association 2014 National Wrestling Coach of the Year, Steve Keszler, for instilling an outstanding work ethic into his athletes. “I travel all over the country and the two things that they talk about in Sturgis is the bike rally and wrestling.” This unique rodeo essentially brought the format of a wrestling tournament to the rodeo arena.
Winston Brown, a former medal-earning wrestler for the Scoopers and two-time National High School Finals Rodeo qualifier, helped with the event. “The experience the kids on each team got to compete for a spot was unique in that they got to apply their hard work and skills to be apart of a team put together by the advisors and their teammates, much like how Coach Keszler would put together a dual team in wrestling by finding the strengths each individual has and hosting wrestle offs for each weight class,” he says.
Next year, the Cinch Team Rodeo Varsity Cup will be even better. Lemmel says, “I received calls from schools in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota and Nebraska that already want to come play for next year.” Kassidy Caspers likes the idea, saying, “It already was competitive but it will just make it more competitive and bigger.
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Outtagrass Cattle Co. cartoon by Jan Swan Wood for the June 19, 2021, edition of Tri-State Livestock News