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SHERIDAN — Some went straight up and straight back down. Some bopped and bounced along the ground. And some sailed straight and true like a line drive over second base.
One looped backwards. And one hit an unsuspecting spectator on the top of her head.
The flight patterns of the boots being launched at the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo Boot Kickoff event Tuesday night were as unique as the people kicking them. But whether the kickers wore knee-high tube socks, ankle socks or no socks at all, each one was there to do his or her part to kick off the 2013 Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo in proper Wyoming style.
“Our motto is: ‘From the first boot kicked off ‘til the last tailgate shuts, the most fun you’ll have anywhere,’ so this is where that first boot gets kicked,” Boot Kickoff Organizer and Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo board member Linda St. Clair said.
More than 300 people gathered on blankets and lawn chairs near the Kendrick Park band shell to cheer on competitors and get Rodeo Week started right by soaking in some sun and sporting a wide array of cowboy boots and hats — and shorts and flip-flops and grins turned blue with heaping scoops of Hawaiian shaved ice.
A lively group of toddlers were the first out of the gate in the stick horse barrel race events. Lead by members of the 2013 Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo Royalty in a traditional barrel racing pattern, the young cowboys and cowgirls rode their horses as fast as their little legs could carry them, stopping here and there to wave to mom and dad and revel in the applause they received for being kids and being cute.
“I liked the horse and the running,” Trinity Johnson, 4, said. She liked the sparkly shirts worn by the rodeo queens, too, and hopes to one day sport a sparkly shirt of her own when she’s a rodeo princess.
Once the stick horses were stabled and the barrels rolled off the field, the 9- to 12-year-olds kicked off the boot kickoff with flair.
“I just love being able to feel like you’re part of the rodeo,” first-time contestant Brittany Buckallew, 12, said.
Buckallew was roped into the boot kickoff by her friend Staci Helferich, who placed second last year in her age category. The young Ranchester gals were joined by younger brother Bryce Buckallew, 9, and friend Kirsten Homolay, 13. All wore bright pink and practiced together before the real event, discovering that a straight leg and pointed toe produced the truest trajectory.
“I’m a Wyoming girl,” Helferich, 12, said. “I’ll never leave.”
And with a little luck, she’ll move up the ranks in the boot kickoff each year.
In the 13- to 17-year-olds category, Anya and Justin Beutler brought a little sibling rivalry into the fray. The brother and sister from Parkman started their Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo Boot Kickoff career as youngsters in the stick horse barrel race after their family moved to Wyoming to get into farming and ranching. They have participated every year since, spurring each other on with loving jabs in the way brothers and sisters do.
“He’s a nice brother at times, but when it comes to competition, we’re very competitive,” Anya, 13, said.
“But we still love each other, right?” Justin, 15, retorted.
Anya smiled — then punched her brother in the shoulder. Justin won in their age category with a kick of 53.7 feet.
The boot kickoff competition heated up when the adults stepped to the line. Many in the 18-plus category return each year to defend their titles, St. Clair said. But this year, a newbie kicker — Tyler O’Sullivan — snuck into the lead in the men’s category with a kick of 93.3 feet.
“I honestly thought it was going to go straight into the air and come back down,” O’Sullivan said of his winning kick. “I wasn’t expecting it to go that far.”
His trick? Nothing special, he said. He wore ankle socks and pointed his toe. But he did have a friendly bet with his friend Ashley Bell that if either won their category, the other would have to spend a little money on the winner.
“Just a little ice cream will be fine,” O’Sullivan assured.
A little ice cream, a little sunshine and a little fun went a long way toward kicking off the 2013 Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo — and there’s a lot more fun to come.