National High School Finals Rodeo still a go

Kaelie Oliver competes in the tie-down roping event during the fall season in September of last year. All spring rodeo’s were cancelled due to COVID-19.

With over half of the Wyoming High School Rodeo Association’s 2019-2020 being cancelled, the top participants in the state still have something to look forward to with the 2020 National High School Finals Rodeo still slated to take place in Lincoln, Neb., from July 19-25, according to WYHSRA Board of Directors Board Member Dixie Huxtable of Douglas.

The WYHSRA cancelled all of their spring events due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, totalling up to 15 events, including the state high school and junior high finals which were scheduled for the first week of June in Gillette.

The WYHSRA looked into moving the tournament back a week and hosting the state finals in Douglas, but ultimately decided against it. However, they decided to return the state finals to Douglas in 2021. The Wyoming State Fairgrounds hosted the event for more than a couple decades before the local committee disbanded and the WYHSRA board accepted an offer to move it.

The events being cancelled not only effect the athletes who would have competed, but have negative impacts on the economy as well.

“We usually bring about 180 kids and their families for a week,” Huxtable said. “It is typically around 750 people in these communities for at least three to five days. Some people rent hotels and most rent campers and pay fees to the facility they’re staying on.”

In light of over half the season and the finals tournaments being cancelled, the top-four participants in each respective event for the fall and winter portions of the season will travel to Nebraska to compete in the national finals, barring any further COVID-19 related complications.

“We are using the standings from the end of September as well as some of the winter events,” Huxtable said. “Technically, the standings of April 1 is what we will use to determine our top four in each event, with those participants going to the national tournament, as well as the winner of our Queen Contest.”

The National High School Rodeo Association, of which Huxtable is also a member, meets weekly to plan the national tournament, and as of now they plan on moving forward as normally as possible.

“Our executive board for nationals meets every week to try and stay on top of what the situation is,” Huxtable said. “We are all trying to work together to get the plans in place to do things differently to meet all the protocols and restrictions from the state of Nebraska. We need to keep the social distancing, the limiting of people and the sanitizing.

“We work on that week by week, but right now we’re just status quo gearing up to go as if everything is fine.”

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts has tasked the national board and the Lancaster Event Center (where the tournament will be held) with writing up a protocol plan for the event. It is possible only families of the participants will be allowed, but currently officials are planning to allow the public to attend.

As of now, the only Douglas representative who will qualify for the national finals is Broc Schwartzkopf, who is currently ranked as number one in boys cutting for the state.

Shelby Peterson of Douglas is just outside of the top-four for barrel racing coming in at fifth in the state for that event, as well as seventh in pole bending.

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