College Rodeo returns this weekend

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Walla Walla Community College’s Cam Groff dismounts his horse in pursuit of a calf during the tie-down roping portion of the College Rodeo in 2011. Groff broke the barrier on the run and ended up with a time of 23.6 seconds.

WALLA WALLA — Get ready for some championship-quality rodeo this weekend at the Walla Walla County Fairgrounds.

Walla Walla Community College is hosting the 44th annual WWCC College Rodeo at the fairgrounds’ indoor arena Friday through Sunday, its first home rodeo since winning a national championship in 2012 at the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR).

“I think it’s a great product, it’s a great show,” WWCC rodeo coach Buster Barton said. “It’s a great chance to see some national-championship-quality contestants here in Walla Walla and it’s not very expensive. And you get to see some great performers, you get to see some kids from all over the Northwest who can do some amazing things with animals.”

There will be plenty of reasons to come to the rodeo this weekend.

Friday opens with free slack at 9 a.m. and the Northwest Region No. 2 meet at 7 p.m.

The Cowboy Breakfast kicks off Saturday from 8-11 a.m. and a free Little Kid’s Rodeo is scheduled for 9:30 a.m.

The WWCC Rodeo begins Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and runs again at 7 p.m., with the finals taking place Sunday at noon.

The 12-team rodeo will split its proceeds between the Walla Walla Council on the Prevention of Child Abuse and the WWCC rodeo scholarship fund, with the event raising as much as $300,000 in the past.

In addition to the 43-strong rodeo team, about 350 volunteers from WWCC and the community are helping to put the show on, Barton said.

“Our volunteer list is humongous,” Barton said. “We couldn’t even come close to putting on this quality of a program without our volunteers.”

When not competing in an event, members of the rodeo team will be helping run the meet, including assisting with the Little Kid’s Rodeo, which will have goat riding, a bucking machine, a rodeo clown and other attractions.

And Barton himself will have to split his time between coaching and managing the rodeo.

“There’s always a little bit of added pressure,” Barton said. “For me, this is the one rodeo I don’t get to watch a lot because I’m so busy trying to put on a good show for the fans. It’s hard to put on two hats as a producer and coach. But the kids are good at getting things done on their own without me holding their hand.”

The rodeo is the first of the year for WWCC, which last competed in October at Treasure Valley Community College in Ontario, Ore.

The Warriors hold a narrow 59-point lead over Blue Mountain Community College for first place in the men’s standings and are in third place on the women’s side after three rodeos.

In addition to its importance as a fundraiser, this weekend accounts for 20 percent of WWCC’s regular season.

“It’s important, it’s a little tricky,” Barton said. “Rodeo’s a pretty tough sport and if you get hurt you could miss two rodeos instead of one. On the other hand, if a kid gets hot he could do well in two meets instead of one, so it’s kind of a double-edged sword.”

Nevertheless, Barton feels his team is ready after the four-month break since its last rodeo.

“We practice year-round, I feel like we’re very ready,” he said. “We practice every day. The kids are very committed and are as ready as they’re going to get.”

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