by | Mar 15, 2023 | Culture, Community

NDSHRA Alumni (left to right) Shelia Berg, Jodi Kautzman, Bobbi Maher, and Wendy Stuber [Photo: submitted]

The foundation of rodeo is built on old west traditions and strong family values that has carried on for generations. It creates an unbreakable bond amongst individuals, so when there is a chance to gather, it’s like coming home again. 

The North Dakota High School Rodeo Association (NDSHRA) celebrated its 70th Anniversary at the Alumni and Friends Bash, hosted by Pass the Hat & NDHSRA. Past members from several decades gathered at the Bash like time had never passed. Old friends told stories of the past, as the younger generation were inspired to create their own.   

[Image: submitted]

The emcee of the night was Alumnus Beni Paulson, who sculptured an evening of entertainment. Past President Marc Kress kicked off with a highlight of 70 years of history reminding us of the home-grown talent we have in North Dakota. Alumnus Carson Houser followed with a piece of Cowboy Poetry he created in honor of the 70th celebration, showcasing the North Dakota Greats!

The crossing over of several decades was met with “Then versus Now” stories that was the high point of the evening. An array of questions was asked to NDHSRA Alumni, creating laughter and a flood of old memories to the surface. 

The one cherished memory that was shared repeatedly was the friendships and the extended family that rodeo has created. 

“The most memorable experience of high school rodeo was the friendships made, the kind that last a lifetime! It seems no matter where you go, you run into someone that you crossed paths with from your rodeo days,” stated Casey Hande.

Jason Kraft added, “Through the friendships made in rodeo, you can travel anywhere and have a place to stay or helping hand offered.”

A statement that rang so true was shared by Kelly Dressler, “One thing that has remained constant, is the rodeo family tie!”

Gene Harris summed it up best when he was asked, “What was your most memorable 5 minutes in high school rodeo?” and he sincerely stated,  “It was when Wylie Bice and I signed up to compete in the NDSHRA. That moment led to lifelong friends!”

Beni Paulson shared a profound moment in his high school career that sheds light on the impact a rodeo family can have. “I qualified for National High School Finals in the Bull Riding as a sophomore. In the first round at nationals, I placed 4th overall! In the second round, I drew a National Finals bull. I rode 7.8 seconds, just falling short of my goal. The defining moment came, when I watched the video and could hear Team North Dakota cheering loud and proud for me. Hearing and feeling the support boosted my confidence, at that moment I knew I could go on to be a successful bull rider.”

Fun tidbits shared:

Kelly Dressler commented that back in the day, we had 25+ Saddle Bronc Riders, 40+ Bareback Riders and more than 60 Bull Riders. Rough stock had its own slack, which is unheard of today.   

Kay Stevenson recalled the first high school rodeo was held in Beulah, N.D. in 1953. This was a one-day rodeo and the only rodeo to qualify for High School Nationals. “If you didn’t do good, you didn’t move on. That was that,” laughed Stevenson.

Bobbi Maher reminisced about traveling to rodeos with a rusted out red trailer and making memories with friends and family, “Life was much simpler back then.”

The night rolled into a silent and live auction with funds going towards Pass the Hat and NDHSRA scholarships that are awarded annually to our NDHSRA seniors. The evening concluded with music by the talented Connie Gjermundson. 

“Don’t delay, get involved today!” was the message Alumnus Chad Ellingson ended the program with. Lifelong friendships are made and will be cherished for years to come.     

To hear all the colorful stories told by alumni, head over to the North Dakota High School Rodeo Alumni & Friends Facebook page and click on the videos posted.  

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