32nd Annual Wisconsin River Pro Rodeo wrap-up
More than $31,000 in prize money awarded
TINA L. SCOTT
All of the final details from the 32nd Annual Wisconsin River Pro Rodeo (WRPR) held on June 11-12-13 are now available, and in a word, it was a: Success!
While the crowd was a little thinner on Friday evening because of the questionable weather, Saturday evening’s show was a sell-out crowd, and Sunday fans packed the stands, as well.
“Our attendance was 6,000 plus for our three-day event,” said Theresa Grund who handles all the marketing for the WRPR. “It felt good to be back to see the stands full.”
“In spite of the warmer weather we had, the excitement was heard when the gates and chutes opened,” she said.
With a three-day rodeo, competitors came from all over the U.S. to punch their ticket, so to speak, and to try to rack up points and winnings to take them to the circuit finals later in the year. Rodeo includes two types of events: roughtstock events and timed events. Roughstock events including bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, and bull riding, where the contestant’s score is based equally upon his performance and the animal’s performance. To earn a qualified score, the cowboy can use only one hand and must stay aboard a bucking horse or bull for eight seconds. If he touches the animal, himself, or any of his equipment with his free hand, he is disqualified. Timed events – steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down roping, barrel racing, and steer roping – are pretty straightforward. Competitors are competing against the clock and each other for the fastest time.
Each day’s competition welcomes new cowboys and cowgirls and constitutes a round. At the end of the weekend, the scores of all three days of contestants and their times or points earned are compared, to arrive at two winners: One cowgirl wins All Around Winner for Barrel Racing, and one cowboy is announced the All Around Winner based on his combined results in the events he entered.
Rodeo “family” comes from far and wide
“This is professional rodeo cowboys and cowgirls that come into the arena, because this is a Professional Riding Cowboys Association (PRCA) event,” Grund said. “This is their bread and butter for some of them.”
Yet “it’s amazing that the rodeo world, it’s like a second family,” she said. “I mean everybody would like to win – that’s competing – but everybody is rooting for everybody; it’s not like they’re just here for themselves. They’re here to participate, and everybody’s working together to get their best times, and if somebody can help somebody else out, they’re doing that. It’s just a very close knit group of people, friendly people.”
The 2021 WRPR brought in cowboys and cowgirls from throughout Wisconsin, as well as Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Texas, and even Arizona, Colorado, and California.
A couple of Merrill cowgirls were among those competitors this year: Katie VanDerGeest of Merrill and Karissa Gipple of Bernard, Iowa, formerly of Merrill, both gave it their best in the barrel racing competition, and VanDerGeest also competed in the ladies breakaway roping event. Mike Samuelson and I.T. Mattson, both of Gleason, competed in the team roping competition; Lee VanDerGeest of Merrill teamed up with a Missouri cowboy, Gabe Gwaltney, in the team roping event; and Noah Lassa of Merrill was out in the arena in the steer wrestling event.
Out of all of those roping, riding, racing, and wrestling cowboys and cowgirls, Kricket Gintner of Eau Claire emerged as the ladies All Around Winner for Barrel Racing with a time of 16.98 seconds and won a custom saddle and $1,163.
Kyle Whitaker of Chambers, Nebraska, was named All Around Cowboy and won a custom saddle and $1,253 for scores in his events: saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, and steer wrestling. He picked up 80 points and took first place on Barnes PRCA Rodeo’s Red Horse Crossing in the saddle bronc riding event and took second place in the tie-down roping event with a time of 10.4 seconds.
The Lincoln County Rodeo Association (LCRA)/Wisconsin River Pro Rodeo (WRPR) donates one of the saddles, and the Gary VanDerGeest Family donates the other saddle, to be awarded to the all-around winners.
Payouts to contestants for the WRPR weekend this year totaled $31,053.00, which is the total awarded to all contestants that placed, including the all-around winners.
And what would a rodeo be without a Rodeo Queen? It takes a lot more than a pretty face to earn that honor. Grund said contestants present a speech to the LCRA/WRPR Board and other attendees at the annual Queen’s Banquet one evening preceding the start of the rodeo, and the girls are judged on poise and composure, their speech, all around presentation, rodeo ticket sales, and horsemanship, among other things.
This year, Katelyn “Katy” Koeppel of Birnamwood was crowned the WRPR Queen. She attended UW River Falls for two years and the University of Wyoming for Animal Science and Farm and Ranch Management. In addition to working as an administrative assistant, she currently owns her own horse training business and is working to complete her Equine Electro-Massage certification to expand her business into colt training and electro-massage. Katy credits her passion for everything equine to her great grandfather, who encouraged her to start riding at a young age. She has since helped instill that same passion and love into her three younger cousins, who she is extremely close to. Katy is the daughter of Jamie and Lori Koeppel.
Emma Moodie of Athens, daughter of Bryan and Karri Moodie, was crowned this year’s Rodeo Princess.
A community effort
Bryan Block, President of the LCRA/WRPR, said it takes a lot of hard work and sponsorship from the community to put together a rodeo this big to draw this caliber of cowboy and cowgirl talent to the area.
Barnes PRCA Rodeo and New Star Pro Rodeo get credit for providing the stock used during the rodeo (calves, broncs, bulls, etc.). And let’s not forget the guys who are out there getting down and dirty and helping protect the riders and make the events happen, Grund said. It’s the rodeo secretary, officials, timers, announcer, photographer, and music director that help pull together the production.
“And we can’t forget Dusty Myers, our clown/barrelman; our bullfighters, Miles Jones and Luke Moore; flankman, Micah Barnes; chute boss, Marty Barnes; and pickup men, Dan Owens and Jeff Rector. They help make this rodeo happen.”
“We are very appreciative of all the sponsors that helped us return rodeo to Merrill!” Block said. “In addition to our sponsors, our committee members worked hard together to make this year a great success. The committee was excited to have the contestants back and together put on three action-packed performances. The smiles on the faces of the children and the roar of the crowd were very rewarding to see and hear. Looking forward to 2022!”
“Knowing that the Sunday show was the last of our weekend performances, it was sad to see the weekend end,” Grund said. “But we look forward to seeing it all again in 2022!”
And so preparation begins anew for the next rodeo. Even though the circuit isn’t anywhere near complete for the 2021 riders, planning for an event this big is a year-round process for the LCRA/WRPR. And while they have a system in place after all these years, it’s the local people who put it all together and make that system work.
“We usually start right in after we’re done,” Grund said. “We kind of do an overall regroup of how everything went, what we need to work on or to change, things to add, things to take away, but it’s usually within that next month we’re right back at it. We get real heavy into it around February/March, getting everything finalized and getting advertising and things like that set up. Our sponsorships start in November, so this year November we start getting our advertisers or our sponsors, so basically it’s a year-round process to get everything in order for the next performance, to get entertainment lined up, things like that.”
“We’ve had quite a few [sponsors] that have been consistent with us … and like the Jerry Schmitt Band now, that’s the second go-around with us, and a lot of our corporate sponsors are returning sponsors, and our other sponsors that donate toward the events,” Grund said. “We couldn’t do it without them.”