OAK LAKE — Getting back in the saddle for one last round of rodeo before the snow falls, the Manitoba High School Rodeo Association was in Oak Lake Saturday.
It was bittersweet watching youth compete in the final rodeo of 2021, said Kurt Heinrichs, president of Manitoba High School Rodeo Association (MHSRA).
“Our kids are having fun, we’re seeing the smiles on their faces, and it’s been a great year for us,” he said.
The Oak Lake event saw 85 athletes from across Manitoba compete in a variety of rodeo sports, including saddle steer, saddle bronc, goat-tying, barrel racing and more for about six hours of competition.
While the MHSRA was able to host a few rodeos in 2020, Heinrichs said, the number of competitions was lower than in a typical year. The challenging season capped off with the finals being forced to take place in Saskatchewan.
“We got that done and we got our kids off to Canadian [High School Rodeo finals], which was nice. We had a great representation at Canadians, which was in Swift Current, [Sask.],” Heinrichs said. “It was a good season.”
MHSRA started the 2021-22 season off with rodeos in Oak Lake — two events in September and one over the Thanksgiving weekend.
Heinrichs said he is grateful for the community support around high school rodeo. He added Oak Lake has been a great location because it’s central for most athletes.
“They’ve got a great community here, and they do a great job with accommodating us,” Heinrichs said.
MHSRA membership has been on the rise, he said. Typically the organization sees athlete numbers hover around 60 for a rodeo day, but some events are starting to draw more than 90 athletes.
Heinrichs added the 2021-22 season has been energizing as the athlete pool has expanded to include Grade 5 students into the arena for the first time.
MHSRA members can receive scholarships for doing a great job in the ring and in the classroom. For athletes to compete with the MHSRA, they must have good marks, he said, and the association works to ensure youth learn the importance of respect, dedication to grades and thinking about the future.
The goal is to foster skills in athletes both in and out of the arena, Heinrichs said.
“It teaches them to be respectful, be part of the community and be part of the association,” he said. “We have some amazing communities. Our communities are what help make the rodeo go.”
MHSRA events will head back to the arena in the early spring with finals for the 2021-22 season taking place in May.
“We want to preserve the western way of life and western heritage,” Heinrichs said. “These contestants that are here, they’re athletes, just like any other sport.”
Visit the organization’s website mhsra.ca for more details.
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Chelsea Kemp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun