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SUPPZ.COM CO-ATHLETE OF THE WEEK: Platteville's Jesse Vesperman
Platteville junior wins 2022 Wisconsin High School Rodeo’s All-Around Cowboy title
Jesse Vesperman
Platteville’s Jesse Vesperman was named the Wisconsin High School Rodeo Association All-Around Cowboy at the WHSRA State Finals in Richland Center two weekends ago. Above, Vesperman poses with his WHSRA champion all-around cowboy saddle and his two horses Star (left) and Houdini (right).
Steer wrestling
Platteville’ Jesse Vesperman won the WHSRA state title in steer wrestling two Sundays ago at the state finals rodeo in Richland Center.

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

By Jason Nihles, The Platteville Journal / Fennimore Times / Boscobel Dial

Jesse Vesperman, Sr., Platteville, Wisconsin High School Rodeo
RICHLAND CENTER — Nearly three years ago, Platteville’s Jesse Vesperman made a difficult decision to forego his freshman season of high school rodeo as part of a bargain with his parents.

In exchange for giving up a year of high school rodeo competition (which saved his family more than $5,000 in entry fees and traveling expenses), Vesperman’s parents Jim and Amy agreed to use that saved money to buy Jesse a steer wrestling horse, while he off his freshman to train and practice here in Grant County.

That bargain paid off huge dividends two weekends ago when Vesperman, who recently finished his junior year at Platteville High School, won the Wisconsin High School Rodeo Association state title in steer wrestling and in the process was also named Wisconsin’s 2022 All-Around Cowboy at the WHSRA State Finals held June 9–12 at the Richland County Fairgrounds.

Vesperman finished first in Sunday’s short-go (third round) of steer wrestling with a time of 7.645 seconds and ended the eight-rodeo circuit with 211 points to edge River Ridge’s Brody Kielley (199) for the steer wrestling state title.

Late on Sunday, Vesperman earned the title All-Around Cowboy after scoring the most points in all events throughout the entire high school rodeo season. 

The WHSRA holds eight rodeos during the season — four in the fall (Medford, Lancaster, Holmen and Manawa) and four in the spring (Tomah, Dubuque, Arcadia and Richland Center) — with placement points accumulated at each rodeo being combined to determine final individual placements for the season, as well as All-Around Cowboy and All-Around Cowgirl awards.

The top four finishers in each event qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo, that will be held in Gillette, Wyo. July 17–23.

“I wasn’t thinking too much when they announced my name (for All-Around Cowboy),” said Vesperman. “I was definitely happy, but I was surprised. I thought Justin (Gukenberger) was going to win it.”

“The calculation of the all-around points gets a bit complicated, so we weren’t even thinking about the all-around,” said Jesse’s father Jim Vesperman. “Then I heard them call Justin’s name as the all-around reserve cowboy (runner-up) and I thought, oh, Trent Parr must have won it. So, it was a shock to hear Jesse’s name, but it was pretty exciting.”

Vesperman also qualified for nationals with a third-place finish in the tie-down calf roping competition on his 11-year-old mare Star, and a pair of shooting events. He also placed fifth in the boys’ cutting event and 12th in the team roping competition as the heeler with his partner Clare Burcalow of Waunakee.

Vesperman placed second in the trap shooting and fourth-place in the small bore light rifle competition, which were held Thursday, June 9. Shooting competition points do not count toward All-Around Cowboy points total.

Vesperman was a NSHFR qualifier in the trapshooting competition a year ago as a sophomore, where he tied for 41st place out  of 120 competitors in Lincoln. Neb. 

Besides qualifying for nationals in four events, Vesperman was rewarded handsomely for his 2022 high school season.

For winning the title of All-Around Cowboy, he received a Todd Slone saddle (valued at more than $2,000), a $250 gift card for new Corral boots, a $125 gift card for Ariat casual shoes, one free pair of Cinch jeans. He also won a state champion belt buckle, a $1,415 saddle voucher, another pair of Cinch jeans and a permit to become a pro cowboy when he turns 18 for winning the steer wrestling state title. He also got another buckle for his third-place finish in the tie-down roping.

Vesperman plans to make good on that pro rodeo permit and give it a go as a steer wrestling professional in the future. 

But for now, he is enjoying his time on the Wisconsin high school circuit and looking forward to the national finals. He also is spending this week as a junior mentor at a horse camp in Monticello, Iowa with his sister Cora. 

“My favorite part of rodeo is the friends and family,” said Vesperman. “Nationals will be a lot of fun I’m sure. “I just want to do my best and have some fun out there.”

In less than three weeks, Vesperman will tune up for the NHSFR by competing in the 2022 National Little Britches Finals Rodeo in Guthrie, Okla. at the Lazy E Arena July 3–10.

The National Little Britches Association is just as big as the NHSRA, just a different circuit. NLBRA, which was founded in 1952, is a youth rodeo organization for kids’ ages 5 to 18 and annually sanctions over 500 youth rodeos in 33 states. 

More than 3,300 kids from 33 states compete in NLBRA rodeos each year. Contestants compete for prizes such as saddles, buckles, scholarships, and cash at local rodeos as well as the National Finals events. By competing at local events, contestants work to qualify for the annual National Finals Rodeo.

Vesperman qualified for the National Little Britches Finals by competing in six of the eight Illinois Little Britches Rodeo’s in Sheridan, Ill.

He won the Illinois state championship in steer wrestling and was named the state’s All-Around Reserve Cowboy.

He also qualified for the NLBRF in team roping as a heeler with partner Keaton Pickle of Scales Mound, Ill., tie-down calf roping, dally ribbon roping (another timed event) with partner Sara Siegenthaler of Darlington, as well as steer wrestling. 

Despite his amazing success in multiple events, Vesperman says steer wrestling — the event he gave up his freshman year of competition to purchase his horse Houdini — is his favorite. 

Steer wrestling, also known as bulldogging, is a rodeo event in which a horse-mounted rider chases a steer out of the chute, drops from the horse to the steer, then wrestles the steer to the ground by grabbing its horns and pulling it off-balance so that it falls to the ground. The event carries a high risk of injury to the cowboy. 

“Just the adrenaline of jumping off the horse on to the steer and bringing it to the ground, it’s a neat feeling,” said Vesperman. 

Besides his parents, Vesperman was quick to point out a number of others who have helped him succeed along the way.

Boscobel’s Josh Blair taught Jesse breakaway roping in fifth and sixth grade.

Beetown’s Jon Ragatz, a professional cowboy who qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in 2017 and a 1999 graduate of Lancaster High Schoool, coaches both Vesperman and Brody Kielley at his arena in Beetown. 

Lancaster’s Jacob Burks, along with Beetown’s Austin Schneider and Cody Metsker — all of who have competed professionally — also help Vesperman at the Ragatz arena in Beetown, and Burks has been his hazer rider (the other rider in the steer wrestling competition that keeps the steer running straight) throughout the high school season.

Ryan Richert of Lyndon Station has been Vesperman’s pusher for calves in the tie-down roping, family friend Larry “Pic” Pickel of Scales Mound gives great advice.

“These guys have been so generous with their time and talents over the years helping Jesse succeed,” said Jim Vesperman. 

Jesse’s father Jim is a graduate of Lancaster High School. Jesse’s grandmother Doris Vesperman is a resident of Lancaster.