One minute, Kenai Peninsula Fairgrounds’ bleachers were empty and water-soaked clouds hovered above the rodeo arena. Within minutes, a much larger crowd had taken their seats and, in spite of occasional rain, eagerly soaked up the action at the Ninilchik Family Style Rodeo on Saturday and Sunday.
“When I looked up in the bleachers, there was not much there,” said Shirley Cox, organizer of the annual event. “But this was the first year for these bleachers, which are bigger (than the old ones), so even though they were half full, it was a normal crowd. … I was surprised we had as many people as we did.”
Bronc and bull riding drew cowboys and cowgirls from the peninsula and across the state.
“The bulls looked really good this rodeo,” said Cox of the animals’ jumps, twists and turns that unseated one contestant after another and sparked load cheers from the crowd. “I think it was because it was cool. When the weather is a little cool, they tend to be more active.”
There was bareback and saddle bronc riding, barrel racing, team roping competitions and a whole lot more.
The littlest cowpokes got a bit of help and earned a whole lot of applause in calf-riding events, as well as the calf scramble where youngsters vie to be the one to snatch a ribbon from the tail of a calf.
Reigning over the rodeo was Kylie Iverson of Palmer, the High School Rodeo Queen. Also earning titles were:
• Ryder Hackett of Soldotna, best all around cowboy, ages 0-10;
• Tori Kitson of Sterling, best all around cowgirl, ages 0-10;
• Brayden Holley of Soldotna, best all around cowboy, ages 11-16;
• Hannah Kelson of Happy Valley, best all around cowgirl, ages 11-16;
• Billy Rutherford of Palmer, best all around cowboy, ages 17 and older;
• Chelsey Hackett of Soldotna, best all around cowgirl, ages 17 and older.
Cox, a long-time organizer of the rodeo, noted the camaraderie among this year’s contestants.
“It’s becoming stronger and stronger and it’s fun to see the rodeo family all working toward the same goals,” said Cox.
This is the first year for Ninilchik rodeo crowds to enjoy the bleachers purchased to replace the smaller, worn wooden seats. Cox said more improvements are planned for next year.
“I have my fingers crossed that we’ll have (the bleachers) covered by this time next year,” she said of a roof that will eliminate weather worries for at least half of the seating area.
“We have the money for it. We just have to find someone to do it.”
Proceeds from this year’s rodeo also will be used to purchase a new sound system.