HURON, S.D. — He's just 14 years old, but when it comes to sitting in the saddle, rope in hand, waiting for the calf to break, Kass Newman is a seasoned veteran.
In a game where spirit and time are all that matters when the dust settles, the tie-down roper who will be a freshman at Wilson Creek this fall, took his best shot against the best junior ropers in the country recently at the 14th annual National Junior High Finals Rodeo in Huron, S.D.
Newman finished 21st in the average on two-head with 30.97 seconds, an agonizing 1.65 seconds from making the short-go and a run at the national championship. The Wilson Creek cowboy was 35th in the standings after the first day time of 15.3. He was steady with his next calf and a 15.67-second run. He just didn't have that two-three-second drop needed to advance to the short-go, but such is rodeo.
“They take the top 20 (on two-head) to the short-go. I was close,” said Newman, who has been to the National Junior High Finals Rodeo six times now. “That's pretty good, but there were kids that were there with nine-10-second runs. It makes you wonder how the (NFR) guys do it.”
The competition was fierce in the 92-roper field. Trey Adams of Junction City, Kan., won the first-go in 9.98. Luke Dubois, Church Point, La., was the top roper in the second-go with 10.25. Jack Hanratty from Avondale, Colo., won the national championship with a run of 10.97 in the finals.
Newman's been riding since he was two and roping from a horse (Shetland) since he was four or five. So it's back to work. He and his tie-down horse Dude will get back after it. Nothing happens in the arena, that a guy hasn't practiced time and time again in the practice pen back home.
He does both team roping and tie-down, so having a different horse is like a different golf club for different distances. He like speed under him roping calves and more resilience with the bigger, stronger steers.
Newman has quite literally roped hundreds of calves in practice, working and grinding, honing the game he hopes to take to the professional circuit one day.
“My dad built an arena and we have calves and steers to practice on. Sometimes it's just a half hour or an hour. Sometimes it's two or three hours, but I try to get out there every night,” he said. “I'd say I've roped a couple a hundred calves in my lifetime, at least.”
Tie-down roping is one part animal, one part cowboy. Then there's predicting what's running through the mind of a calf part that makes it one big chess game. So there's fundamentals Newman tries to do every run to cut down on some of that unpredictability.
“I try and focus on what I need to do and what I need to do to make my horse to work like I want him to,” said Newman, who will advance to senior high school rodeo next year. “My horse and I have to work together. Obviously, he chases the calf. But I have to count on him to do his part when I rope the calf, (dismount) and run down there and tie him as fast I can.”
Making all the work in the pen translate to a quality run at show time is what separates the short-go and rest. Anything a guy and his horse can do to make the run smooth makes all the difference in the world.
“Sometimes (Dude) falls asleep and it's hard to keep him awake (while we're waiting for the calf),” Newman said with a laugh. “But he knows when it's time to go.”
Newman's season is over, but he'll spend the rest of the summer catching the PRCA rodeo action in the Pacific Northwest, rodeo's like the 75th annual Moses Lake Roundup, the Omak Stampede, Ellensburg, maybe even sneak over to Spokane.
“With the Moses Lake Roundup, I'll go every night to watch,” he said. “With the others like Ellensburg or Omak my dad and uncle go and I try to go with them and watch how the professionals are doing it.”
Rodney Harwood is a sports writer at the Columbia Basin Herald and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org