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Local steer wrestler will compete for $1 million prize this Sunday
Lancaster's Jacob Burks (right) prepares for his second go-round last Sunday at the semifinal qualifier for The American. Burks finished second in the steer wrestling competition and earn one of six "qualifier" spots in this weekend's finals.

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Athlete of the Week is a web-only feature that will publish each Thursday throughout the calendar year.


Jacob Burks, Lancaster, rodeo

     The 38-year-old native of Glen Rose, Ark. has become a instant Grant County celebrity over the weekend after his stellar performance during the steer wrestling semifinal round of The American rodeo in Fort Worth, Texas, that was televised live Sunday afternoon.

     Videos of the ride went viral via Facebook just minutes later and now Burks is living his own real-life Tin Cup story. 

     Burks, a Lancaster resident for the past decade, is a commodities broker at Platteville’s First Capital Ag by day and a high school girls basketball coach by night. But in his free time, the semi-pro cowboy still finds time to pursue his first love, rodeo.

    Last weekend, Burks achieved the biggest win of his rodeo career, that spans more than two decades, by finishing second in the semifinals to earn a spot in this weekend's finals of the The American, presented by Polaris Ranger. For that accomplishment, Burks is this week’s Mast Water Technology Athlete of the Week.

     If you are unfamiliar with the plot of Tin Cup, a 1996 comedy featuring Kevin Costner and Rene Russo, Costner’s character Roy McAvoy is a former golf prodigy that dusts off his clubs for one last run at greatest, ultimately qualifying for the U.S. Open to compete against the PGA tour pros.

     Burks journey to The American finals is very similar. The veteran steer wrestler is among the six “qualifiers” that earned a chance to compete against 10 professionals with a chance to win $1 million this Sunday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

     The event will be broadcast live on RFD TV (channel 345 on Direct TV, channel 231 on Dish Network). The pre-rodeo show begins at 1 p.m. with live broadcast of the event scheduled for 2 p.m.

     The American is promoted as the richest one-day rodeo event in Western sports history, and pits the top six “qualifiers” in each of the seven events against the top 10 professionals in the world. It is essentially the U.S. Open of rodeo.

     Each event will pay $100,000 for first-place and $25,000 for second. There will also be a $1 million side pot for “qualifiers” who win his or her event.

     Competitors in the finals earned spots in one of two ways.

     The top 10 professionals in the world, in each event, received automatic invitations to this Sunday's event, while hopeful contestants like Burks, had to go through a series of qualifying competitions to make the cut.

     The road to finals began for Burks on Aug. 16, of last year when he competed alongside his brother-in-law, Jon Ragatz, of Beetown, at a qualifier in Lexington, Tenn. The two finished among the top 10 in steer wrestling (Ragatz fourth, Burks eight), which qualified them for the semifinal round held in Fort Worth last Friday and Sunday.

     In just the steer wrestling event alone, there were 126 semifinal competitors, all hoping to finish among the top six to earn a “qualifier” spot and a shot at the million dollar prize.

     In Friday’s first go-round, Burks fell his steer in a time of 5.37 seconds, but he was certain the time was too slow to advance to Sunday’s second go-round. But later that night, while sitting around the camp fire at a friend’s house, Burks received the call that he had in fact finished in the top-10 to advance to Sunday’s second semifinal go-round.

     Plane tickets home were canceled and two days later Burks took down his steer in a time of 4.48 seconds, the second-best time of the day. He earned $13,392 for his efforts for his second-place finish, and a coveted spot in The American finals.

     “To be completely honest with you, I was on cloud nine,” Burks said of the accomplishment. “My honest gut reaction is that I expect I will have some jitters being in that stadium, but not nearly as much as I would have had in years past. I think it’s because now I have so much more than just rodeo in my life.

     “Unlike some of those other guys, this isn’t how I make a living. Win or lose I can come back to what I’ve got going on in my life.”

     If Burks manages to win the steer wrestling competition, he will claim his stake to the $1 million prize, which will be awarded to, or shared amongst, any of the “qualifiers” who should happen to win their event.

     There are 42 total qualifiers competing in seven events.

     “Quite honestly, I’ll probably be more caught up in the aura and the atmosphere that night than I will about the prize money,” Burks said. 



Sierra Brecke, sr., and Skye Digman, so., Platteville girls basketball

     Brecke scored a game-high 19 points while Digman added 13 points and 10 rebounds to lead Platteville to a dominating 60–37 victory at Richland Center last Thursday night. The Hillmen (15–7, 8–2 SWC) clinched the outright Southwest Wisconsin Conference title by avenging an earlier loss to the Hornets, who finished second in the conference at 7–3.


Clara Chambers, sr., Mineral Point girls basketball

     The senior guard scored a game-high 24 points to lead the Pointers to a 57–53 victory at Cuba City that helped the Pointers secured the outright SWAL title, ending the Cubans four-year reign as conference champion. Chambers’ free throws with 43 seconds left extended Point’s lead to 56–53 and after forcing another Cuba City turnover, senior center Jessica Schultz made one of two foul shots to seal the victory.


Kelsie Goffinet, so., Southwestern/Cuba City gymnastics

     Goffinet won the vault (8.85) and balance beam (9.1), finished second on the uneven bars (8.3) and floor exercise (9.0) to win the all-around title at Friday’s Southwest Wisconsin Conference Championships while leading coach Karen Wiederholt’s Wildcats to the team title.


Brianna Leahy, so., Shullsburg girls basketball

     The 6-foot-2 sophomore center  recorded her third triple–double of the season with a game-high 22 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks to lead the Miners to a 40–22 victory over visiting Belmont last Thursday as Shullsburg (20–2, 11–1 SRW) clinched the outright Six Rivers West title.


Brayden Johnson, sr., Iowa–Grant boys basketball

     The senior guard scored 12 of his game-high 17 points in a seven-minute stretch during the second half that spurred Iowa–Grant to a SWAL title-clinching 54–48 victory at Darlington last Friday night. Johnson made a three-pointer to give the Panthers a 32–24 lead, then converted a three-point play and later drilled back-to-back triples to cap a 24–9 run that extended the I–G lead to 44–33. Johnson also made three of four from the free throw line in the final 1:52 to help close out the six-point win. Iowa–Grant improved to 20–1 overall and 13–0 in the SWAL, winning the program’s first conference title since 1994–95.


Joey Meyer, jr., Shullsburg boys basketball

     The junior center scored a game-high 19 points and offed four rebounds to lead Shullsburg to a 32–24 victory over Highland last Friday night as the Miners (17–4, 9–2 SRW) clinched at least a share of this year’s Six Rivers West boys’ title. Last Tuesday, Meyer poured in a season-high 26 points in a 58–28 rout of visiting Benton.


Blake Robson, so., Cuba City boys basketball

     The sophomore point guard drilled the game-winning three-pointer with eight seconds left to lift the Cubans to a 45–44 SWAL victory over rival Southwestern last Friday night. Robson finished with seven points. He also scored 15 points in a 65–51 win at Mineral Point on Tuesday, Feb. 16.