Keeping Vanishing Traditions of the American West Alive --- High School Rodeo
by Joe Pollini
Excitement permeated the air. The sun was setting in the azure sky as it deepened in color. Alpenglow cast it gold mantle over the White Mountains to the east of the arena. The hip-hop dance music blared through the open arena energizing the audience, and then - - - the cow was released into the main event area. Nano-seconds later, two hulking horses with young cowboys bore down on the animal. With lariats in one hand, horse’s reins in the other, the cowboys raced against the clock.
“Whoaaa!” roared the crowd as the two teenagers stealthily roped the young calf in record time --- first around its neck, then around its hind legs. The young men deftly guided their horses to quick twists and turns as the cow kicked away from the oncoming ropers. The adrenaline charged up the crowd as the team’s performance riveted their attention.
This was team roping --- one of several breathtaking events at the California State High School Rodeo in Bishop, CA held from June 11 – 15th. Each night, over a dozen rodeo events provides thrills, chills, and excitement for its devoted audiences. Foreigners from France, Germany, Holland and other countries who visit this unique mountain town flock to the rodeo to get a flavor of America’s cowboy traditions.
Bishop has been hosting this exciting event over the last several years. Each year, some 250 high school participants along with family, spectators, and sport officials flock to this western frontier town nestled in beautiful eastern California. Traveling from throughout California, these cowboys and cowgirls represent the best of the region and range in age from 15 through 18 years old.
These rodeo gladiators are the last vestige of a dying sport that saw better times decades ago. As ranches have morphed from family operations to big business, along with waning interest, these youth form the last line of defense in keeping a vanishing sport alive. Many rodeo events historically stem from ranch work such as roping, breaking horses, etc. Others events are designed for speed, horsemanship, or bravado such as barrel racing, pole bending, and the most “hair raising event of all” --- riding the wild bulls!
The kids are exposed to well rounded and balanced lifestyles. They take on community service projects during the rodeo such as raising money for the Eastern Sierra Breast Cancer Association and other local charities. Reinforcing the value of education and academics, high grade point averages of the students are announced before they begin their events. Like their families and ancestors before them, these kids are taught to work hard, do their best, and respect others.
For further information on Bishop, the high school rodeo, and other fun adventures you can find in “The Other Side of California”, check out www.bishopvisitor.com and www.chsra.org.