Mitchell Story is feeling a lot more confident heading into his second National Junior High Finals Rodeo. This time, he will head into South Dakota as a state champion.
Story, a 15-year-old from Bayfield who recently completed eighth grade, won the Colorado Junior High Rodeo Association’s saddle bronc steer category last month after he scored 106.50 points to take home the state title in Craig. He went to nationals last year and is looking for more this time around.
“My main event, the saddle-bronc, I’ve been wanting to do good in that since I started rodeoing, and to finally achieve that, winning a state championship, was really awesome,” Story said. “I honestly never thought I’d get this far. I went last year and had a tough time, but now I’m feeling really good. From where I started to now, I definitely set my goals a little higher. I started riding saddle bronc in sixth grade and am in eighth now, so for me to grow this much in that amount of time is pretty cool to see.”
In order to score points in the saddle bronc, a rider must ride one-handed with the riding rein for six seconds to receive a score. The highest score wins, and 50% of the score is based off of the animal, while the other 50% is based off of the rider. In order to be considered for hitting the mark, when leaving the chute, the feet of the rider must be on the point of the animal’s shoulder when its front feet hit the ground
Story almost didn’t win a state championship, as he and his second-place competitor, Cash Evans, went back-and-forth for most of the season. Evans and Story exchanged wins, but on the day of the state championship, Story edged Evans by six points.
“I knew that I had to have a good state finals, and it ended up great,” Story said. “Cash is only in sixth grade and he’s one of the top kids around. But saddle bronc is unique because there’s a lot more people you can depend on. If somebody is not there to help you, you know that somebody will chip in. There’s no selfishness and everybody wants you to do well. I won my first go-around and he got bucked off. I rode my first two and got first and second but I missed my mark out in the short round, so I didn’t get a score. I still put together some good rides and did enough to win.”
In the overall standings, Teagan Roukema, another local athlete, finished in eighth-place with 297 points, while Story finished in 16th with 177.50 points. On the girls side, Quincy Morgan-Montoya of Hesperus finished in 10th with 271 points, while Kylee Pontine was the highest finisher from Durango with 34 points, while Hannah Belvin finished in 27th with 29 points, and Holli Timmerman finished in 30th with 15. Ignacio’s Laci Bunson was 29th with 20 points. Bayfield’s Liesl Chenowith was 33rd with five points.
Story was the last one to ride and saw what the stock held from previous riders: they were fresh and were bucking pretty hard.
“I knew that if I just rode, I’d end up OK, and I probably drew the best steer out of them,” Story said. “I rode mine and was the only kid who rode that go-round because the stock was tough.”
At nationals, Story knows how fierce the competition will be because he competed there last year.
His mother, Shannon, said that with a state title under his belt, she believes her son will be ready to go come nationals.
“He’s worked so hard for the last three years, and he used to ride mini bulls and then started riding saddle bronc,” Shannon said. “When you go from riding bulls to saddle bronc steers, it’s way harder than if you go from riding bulls to saddle bronc. It’s way harder than if you go from saddle bronc to bulls, and he had a really hard time when he first started. For him to accomplish this and not give in, I’m proud that he sees that if you work hard at something and don’t quit, then you could do anything that you want to achieve.”
Success in the saddle bronc runs in the family. Story’s father, Cody, used to ride the same event. He also competed on the same rodeo team.
“As a parent, let alone a dad, I can’t imagine to begin to understand what he is feeling,” Shannon said. “It really has come full-circle here, and we can’t wait to see what happens.”
Story was not the only qualifier from the area, as three others from the team will go to nationals.
Roukema took fourth in tie down roping with 69 points, and was also fourth in chute dodging with 82 points. Morgan-Montoya finished in second in girls goat tying with 94 points, was fourth in the girls breakaway category with 56 points and took 28th in pole bending. Bodie Hine also qualified.
Story will be hoping for a high finish to complete a stellar middle school career.
“I am hoping to have a top-20 finish at nationals, and I really think I can do it,” Story said. “Last year, I finished very low and got bucked off. It was tough, but I kept at it to get where I am today. I’m feeling really good about it and can’t wait to see how it goes.”
The National Junior High Rodeo Finals will be held June 23-29 at the South Dakota State Fair in Huron, South Dakota.