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MCDONALD'S GAME OF THE WEEK (Rodeo): National High School Finals Rodeo
Five area cowgirls are competing in the NHSFR
Lancaster's Lainee Burks qualified for the national finals in barrel racing, where she was the state’s top rider, and in breakaway roping, where she finished second during the shortened regular season. She also will be competing for the crown of National High School Rodeo Queen, after being crowned the Wisconsin State Rodeo Queen earlier this summer.

RODEO: National High School Finals Rodeo

Five local cowgirls are spending this week in Guthrie, Oklahoma, competing at the 2020 National High School Finals Rodeo.

They all have rodeo in their blood, and they have all gained a wealth of experience during the course of their rodeo careers.

The young ladies competing at this year’s National High School Finals Rodeo include sisters Bridee and Lainee Burks of Lancaster, Brenna Ragatz of Lancaster, Makenna Graney of Fennimore and Montanna Keilley of River Ridge.

These five all finished among the top four in their respective event during the 2019-20 Wisconsin High School Rodeo schedule, which was shortened due to COVID-19.

Instead of the usual 15 rodeos which started last fall and typically last up until June, these cowgirls competed in eight rodeos, all held last fall in Medford, Lancaster, Holman and Manawa. Spring rodeos which were cancelled due to COVID-19 included Tomah, Arcadia, Dubuque and the state finals held in Richland Center.

The 2020 National High School Finals Rodeo begins this Friday at the Lazy E Arena near Guthrie, Oklahoma, and will run through July 23.

The rodeo has been held every year since 1949, and changes venues every two years. This year’s rodeo was originally schedule to be held at Lincoln, Nebraska, but fearing the spread of COVID-19, county health officials in Nebraska canceled the rodeo, and the privately owned Lazy E Arena, stepped in to host this year’s event.

Social distancing will be practiced in the chutes and in the stands, and hand sanitizers will be used during the National High School Finals Rodeo. The Lazy E Arena’s normal building capacity of more than 7,000 will be limited to around 3,500.

Normally featuring more than 1,650 contestants from 43 states, five Canadian provinces, Mexico and Australia, it has been reported that this year’s numbers are expected to be lower due to COVID-19.

NHSFR contestants will be competing for more than $375,000 in college scholarships and the chance to be named the NHSFR World Champion. To earn this title, contestants must finish in the top 20 of their event based on their combined times/scores in the first two round. They then advance to the final round, where the World Champions will be determined based on their three-round combined times/scores.

Competing as the Wisconsin High School Rodeo Champion in the breakaway roping event is Bridee Burks, who also qualified for the national rodeo in goat tying, where she placed third in the state.

“I had a good fall season even though both fall and spring seasons are pretty hectic, as Lainee and I both juggle cross country, track and rodeo,” said Bridee. “It’s pretty normal for us to cross the finish line at a race and hustle to the pickup and trailer parked in the parking lot and head straight to a high school rodeo. We change out of our running shoes into our cowboy boots and jump on our horses and compete.”

“Rodeo has been all I’ve known since I was a little girl,’ Bridee added. “Horses and the events were always part of everyday activities. The bond between family and friends over the sport of rodeo is something that most people don’t understand and it is something I really appreciate the older I get.”

“Rodeo is challenging. It is something you must work at all the time,” explained Bridee. “Not only do you need to be in shape to compete, so do your animals. Just like any sport, it take a lot of time, effort and dedication. This year has been different, as many of our rodeos were canceled. Practicing and keeping our horses in shape has given us purpose and helped fill our time since so many things were canceled this year.”

Bridee’s younger sister, Lainee, qualified for the national finals in barrel racing, where she was the state’s top rider, and in breakaway roping, where she finished second during the shortened regular season. She also will be competing for the crown of National High School Rodeo Queen, after being crowned the Wisconsin State Rodeo Queen earlier this summer.

“Rodeo has been a very important part of our lives, and carrying on the tradition of my parents and grandparents is really important,” said Lainee. “Rodeo creates many opportunities to travel, compete and meet people we otherwise wouldn’t ever cross paths with. I have friends that I talk to daily from all across the U.S., as well as a very good friend also named Laney that is from Australia.”

Brenna Ragatz will be competing in the reined cow horse competition at the national finals, and like Bridee and Lainee, she too was born into rodeo.

“I grew up with the rodeo all around me. I’ve been riding horses since I was three or four, and so my family are the ones that got me started, have helped me, and my love for rodeo grew ever since,’ Brenna said.

“I love it because the friends you make in your own state turns into family,” Brenna added. “Inside the arena, we’re each other’s biggest competitors, and outside we’re family. Even at nationals you meet so many new people and create new friendships that will last a lifetime. The memories, experiences and opportunities you get are like unexplainable. Just the sport itself is so much fun.”

Unsure if these kids would even be able to compete at the national level, they all continued to work at their events during the spring and summer months, and now get to compete in Oklahoma.

“I honestly thought with everything going on, our luck for being able to compete this year at nationals was low, but I still practiced like it was going to happen,” said Brenna. “So, the fact that it’s still happening, even if it won’t be like the previous years with all the fun activities for us contestants and the possibility of the draws and performances being different, I still feel very blessed for the association putting all the hard work into making it happen. And I’m still very excited to get this opportunity and to go out there and compete.”

Montanna Keilley will also be making the trip to Oklahoma, where she will be competing in the reined cow horse competition along with Brenna.

Montanna was encouraged to give rodeo a try by her cousin Sammy Steiger, and recently has been working with Rodger and Carline Knapp when it comes to the reining cow horse event.

Growing up, by cousin Sammy Steiger rodeoed, which only made me more persistent to chase my dreams,” said Montanna. “Sammy began teaching me and showing me the ropes, while my parents supported me 110% from the beginning. We started rodeoing and never looked back.”

“Although our season has been short, I have learned so much in the past few months of practicing with Rodger,” said Montanna. “During my time in high school rodeo I have learned so many things, I can not even begin to list them all. But what I can tell you is rodeo has taught me to be humble, you never know everything and can always learn more.”

“I am beyond excited to compete in Guthrie Oklahoma. We are so blessed with the opportunity,” Montanna concluded.

Makenna Graney will be competing at the national finals in trap shooting, something she has enjoyed doing for some time now, along with light rifle shooting.

“My dad and grandpa got me started with the love of shooting at a young age,” Makenna said. “Trapshooting has given me a chance to live a legacy created by my great-grandfather many years ago. It’s been a fun family event that’s allowed me to meet new people and grow as a person.”

“I’ve been practicing during COVID at different shooting ranges, but the chance to compete in a rodeo shooting event in Oklahoma brings me hope of finding a new sense of normal,” Makenna concluded.

Competition began July 17 and continues daily at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. through July 23.

To follow your local favorites at the NHSFR, visit daily for complete results.