SHERIDAN — The 53rd annual Sheridan College Pat Hamilton Memorial Rodeo this weekend provides a chance to see some of the area’s less talked about athletes.
Although high school football is on the mind for Sheridan County, the event provides a late outdoor arena rodeo in Sheridan as summer fades into fall.
Three hundred contestants are expected over the weekend event held in memory of former SC coach Pat Hamilton. If the free admission isn’t enough to draw a good-sized crowd, the event serves as a chance to see a promising Sheridan College team that has set a high bar for 2013-14.
Sheridan College has quietly ridden into one of its best starts in recent years, with the men’s team in third and the women’s team in fifth through two weeks of competition. Casper College and Gillette College lead the early CRMR standings after Casper won last week in Chadron and Gillette took the year’s first rodeo at Central Wyoming College in Riverton.
Returners Zeke Thurston and Taygen Schuelke are largely to thank for the Generals success. Thurston won the first two saddle bronc competitions, leaving himself first in CRMR standings with 355 points ahead of Schuelke’s 250 in second.
“Taygen’s bucked off two bulls, he’s been riding rank bulls all summer — he’s second in the Badlands Circuit — and he just fell off a couple that he shouldn’t have,” Gilkerson said of the early going. “If we can get him to ride a few bulls, and then Tate Schwagler just drew terrible and they didn’t give him a re-ride, but Tate’s been riding really good. I’ve got three, four, five guys that could be right there.”
Schwagler is eighth in bareback, and Dillon Barkshire is sixth in saddle bronc so far. Plus, a promising freshman class has Gilkerson excited about the team’s chances. Tuesday night at the college practice arena, South Dakota freshmen Tayte Clark and Kash Deal flew out of the chutes on saddle bronc rides as the team works to acclimate its younger athletes to college rodeo.
“We’re just getting them on good practice stock and getting everything feeling good,” Gilkerson said. “College is a little different than high school, in a sense that there’s a lot more guys that ride good.”
Last year, SC had its highest finish in five years and through the early standings they’ve shown they can hang with the top guys again.
“We have a lot of potential, so we have a really good chance of staying with Casper,” he said.
On the Lady Generals side, Annie Novotny, Teddi Schwagler and Jayne Lauweryssen have all made some noise through the first two rodeos. For the freshmen, two-sport athlete Schai Schaefer, splitting her time with the volleyball team, as well as local cowgirl Cashlee Cunningham, of Big Horn, bring up the girls squad.
“In the last two rodeos I had two girls miss the short round by a tenth and five-tenths, we’re just right there and so I have really high hopes for them,” he said. “It’s probably the best girls team I’ve ever had,” Gilkerson said, now in his fifth year with the team.
The CRMR holds five fall and five spring rodeos, with cowboys and cowgirls working to qualify for the College National Finals Rodeo in June.
Thurston and Schuelke made their first CNFR trips over the summer. After the good finish last season, the team has returned to where it was in the mid-2000s under the direction of coach Rick Landeis, where a significant presence each year at the CNFR has become an expectation.
This weekend a full slate of events including rough stock, tie-down, team and breakaway roping as well as goat tying and steer wrestling are planned over the Friday and Saturday 6 p.m. performances and the 10 a.m. short round on Sunday.
The SC team brings together riders from South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming taking their shot at the next level of the many-tiered sport of rodeo, and Gilkerson said he knows his athletes enjoy the chance to compete in front of their home crowd.
“They love Sheridan,” Gilkerson said of his team. “You look at the big grandstands and it doesn’t look like there’s a lot of people there, but if you compare it to Chadron last week, it’d be full.”
“We get a good turnout for this late in the year with school starting and football games and everything.”