Sports

Every 2007 NFR champ will compete at Kitsap Fair & Stampede rodeo

By AARON MANAGHAN

Sports editor

This is one Stampede that keeps gaining momentum.

While in the past the Kitsap Fair & Stampede Rodeo has seen considerable growth and improvements in everything from stock, to funding, to the arena floor itself, it's never seen a boon like this.

With the top 15 all-around cowboys in the National Finals Rodeo (NFR) standings set to attend, this year's Stampede will be bigger than ever. The Stampede will fill Thunderbird Arena from Wednesday, Aug. 20 to Saturday, Aug. 23.

Rodeo director Joe Drouin said the talent has never been as high.

"I just can't believe it," Drouin said. "I can't believe all these guys are coming up here."

Initially, Drouin said rodeo organizers were worried about competitor turnout due to rising gas prices. So far that hasn't seemed to dampen a thing however, thanks largely to ESPN's coverage of this year's Xtreme Bulls competition, which takes place on Sunday, Aug. 24.

"The word got out about Kitsap," Drouin said. "They heard good things."

Very good things it would seem.

In addition to the top all-around cowboys, each of the NFR reigning world champions will make the trek to Kitsap for the Stampede.

"We've never drawn them all," Drouin said.

That means 2007 All-Around World Champion and Tie-Down Roping champ Trevor Brazille, Bareback Riding champ Bobby Mote, Steer Wrestling champ Jason Miller, Saddle Bronc Riding champ Taos Muncy, Bull Riding champ Wesley Silcox, Barrel Racing champ Brittany Pozzi-Pharr and Team Roping champs Chad Masters and Walt Woodard will all take to the Thunderbird Arena floor in an all-star showing of rodeo talent.

"We're just overjoyed," Drouin said. "It's just unbelievable we got this kind of talent. It's just great. You can't really explain it.

"It's like a mini-NFR."

Along with the champs, all 20 of the top-ranked steer wrestlers and team ropers will be in attendance, as will 17 of the top 20 ranked tie-down ropers and bull riders. 16 of the top 20 saddle bronc riders will compete, as will 11 of the top 20 bareback riders.

Drouin said he attributes the sharp increase in talent not only to ESPN's involvement with Xtreme Bulls, but also the continued improvement and strong reputation the Fair & Stampede has spent the past 48 years building.

"It does tell those guys we've got something good going on," Drouin said. "It's paying off dividends with what we've been doing all these years."

In addition to the cowboys, their direct competition will be high again as Growney Brothers Rodeo Company, Korkow Rodeos, Western Rodeos Inc., Powder River Rodeo LLC, and D&H Cattle Land Co. Inc. are teaming up to provide the stock.

10-ime Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Announcer of the Year Randy Corley, a Silverdale resident, will again lend his vocals to the rodeo, while Mick Thompson and Darrell Diefenbach are the returning bull fighters. Keith Eisley will be back to provide on-floor entertainment after winning the association's Clown of the Year award last year.

Saturday will feature the Tough Enough To Wear Pink benefit, which will once again benefit Harrison Medical Center's oncology services. Last year, the benefit raised more than $12,000.

"It's a natural fit," Tough Enough To Wear Pink chair and Cowpokes Committee secretary Julie Johnson said. "The relationship (with Harrison) is just growing. Why not continue to give to them?"

With the growth the rodeo has seen this year (tickets are going fast for the Friday and Saturday performances), Johnson is happy to coincide the Tough Enough event with a main day.

"Friday, Saturday and Sunday for Xtreme Bulls are our most popular days," Johnson said of the rodeo. "I'm noticing more people are aware of (Tough Enough To Wear Pink). People are getting excited."

A variety of pink-themed items can be purchased at the Stampede for the event, from pink stickers to hats and T-shirts.

Another key improvement this year is on the arena floor, as a new arrow shoot will allow rodeo workers to more efficiently ready the roping stock. Shaped like an arrow's fletching, the stock will be organized by number, which the competitors draw much like bucking stock. When that number is called, the holding pen opens into the main chute without restriction from the other holding pens.

"For my guys, they have to have the animals lined up by the right number," Drouin said. "(This allows) no mess ups, no problems."

Tickets for the Kitsap County Fair & Stampede are available now on the rodeo's Web site, www.kitsaprodeo.com. Tickets are $10 for adults and youth (ages 6-12), while box seats are $25 and floor seating is $20. Presale tickets for Wednesday's opener are available at Westsound Bank and Mortgage or online at www.kitsaproedo.com. The rodeo begins at 7 p.m. nightly. Group tickets also are available, with packages of 25 or 50 tickets. Visit the Web site for more info.

The Fair & Stampede also is hoping to get more people enrolled in the Buckle Club, an exclusive group of rodeo supporters distinguished by the belt buckles they wear, which are personalized with the Kitsap Fair & Stampede logo and the club member's name. For $250, Buckle Club members receive:

• First-year members receive a handcrafted western buckle with the Kitsap Stampede logo and their personalized name engraved on it.

• Renewing members receive a commemorative pin unique for each year.

• Two Buckle Club passes to the Kitsap Fair & Stampede, good for each night of the rodeo.

• Two Buckle Club passes to Sunday's Xtreme Bulls.

• A special seating area during rodeo and Xtreme Bulls that includes appetizers and no-host cocktail service.

• Entry to the famous Thursday afternoon barbecue.

• Ability to attend Buckle Club Socials throughout the year.

Xtreme Bulls bringing in more bang for buck

Sure, everyone knew Xtreme Bulls would be bigger than ever this year with ESPN adding it as a televised tour stop.

But no one thought it'd be this big.

Four previous NFR world champion bull riders, including reigning champ Wesley Silcox, will compete at Xtreme Bulls, battling some of the baddest bucking bulls in the business for the tour stop crown — and their share of the $50,000 pot.

"This is a big year," Kitsap Fair & Stampede rodeo director Joe Drouin said.

ESPN will broadcast Xtreme Bulls via tape delay on Sept. 7 at noon and again on Nov. 23 at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN2.

The addition of the tour stop to ESPN's roster means some changes from past Xtreme Bulls events. Most notably, a new arena entry will be in place allowing some degree of pyrotechnics, Drouin said.

"With Xtreme Bulls, we had to have a different kind of entry," Drouin said.

Philadelphia, Miss. cowboy Chance Smart currently rides atop the Xtreme Bulls standings with more than $57,000 in total earnings. Kankakee, Ill. bull rider Mike Moore is second with $40,777.20 while Silcox is third at $40,295.92.

Kanan Assay, of Powell, Wyo., won the Xtreme Bulls overall championship last year but will not be at Kitsap's leg.

Tickets are $20 for adult general admission and $16 for youth tickets (ages 6-12) on the day of the event, while presale costs $18 for general admission. Children 5 and younger are free. Tickets are available in advance at all Westsound Bank locations, at the Kitsap County Facilities, Parks and Recreation Department office or online at www.kitsaprodeo.com. Arena floor seats for the event are $25. Box seats are $35.

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