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October 18, 2013

College represented well at finale

Thursday results

DUNCAN — More than half the bronc riders that qualified for this year’s Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo have something in common: They all competed in college rodeo at Oklahoma Panhandle State University.

On Thursday night during the first go-round of the regional championship at the Stephens County Fair and Expo Center in Duncan, four of the seven Panhandle State cowboys shared the evening’s bronc riding purse. Led by veteran Travis Sheets, who won the round, the top four places went to cowboys attended the small college in the small town of Goodwell, Okla.

“That’s a bronc riders school,” said Sheets, who rode Beutler and Son Rodeo’s Dreamer for 79 points to collect the $1,178 first-place check.

It has been for a number of years, and now the program is coached by a couple of bronc riding legends in head coach Craig Latham, a nine-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier, and Robert Etbauer, a two-time world champion.

“They crave bronc riding up there, and if you want to be a bronc rider, that’s where you go,” Sheets said. “If you’ve got the try, you’ll figure it out up there.”

Sheets was joined in Thursday’s winner’s circle by Joe Harper, who was part of the Panhandle State men’s national championship team earlier this year; Weston Ireland, who attended the university about seven years ago; and Trell Etbauer, the 2005 national champion steer wrestler, three time Prairie Circuit all-around champion and four-time Linderman Award winner for excelling in both timed events and roughstock events.

Harper finished second with a 78 on Mo Betta Rodeo’s Shasta, while Ireland was 72 and Etbauer was 69. In all, their combined income on opening night was nearly $3,000.

“This is good, because I’m way down there in the circuit standings,” Sheets said, noting that year-end and circuit finals average champions in each event qualify for the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, which takes place next spring in Oklahoma City. “I have to go for the average to get a chance to go back to Oklahoma City.”

Only the top three-round cumulative scores or times earn the average championship, so it will come down to Saturday night’s finale before those titles are decided. For Sheets, it’s just nice to be healthy and back to riding broncs well again.

“I got hurt midway through the summer, and I just didn’t get along very well after that,” said Sheets, from Hyannis, Neb. “I finally decided just to go home and heal up.

“It’s nice to have a horse like that when you just get back to rodeoing again. I actually had that horse a couple of times, so I knew a lot about that horse. You get your confidence going. Of course, any time you can start your weekend with a good ride, it’s always a plus.”

Now Sheets hopes to parlay a strong start into a powerful finish. He’s got the advantage heading into the final two nights of the circuit championship.

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