There will be rodeo action in Red Deer again, but it was close as to whether the sport would be staying in the city.
The Foothills Cowboys Association had brought its season-ending Finals rodeo to Red Deer city for 22 straight years, but after last fall, the group opened the event up to tenders and was looking elsewhere.
This week, FCA officials announced the Cowboy Classic would be back in Red Deer in October. But that decision came only after a new partnership was formed to engage more local players in the event. Thanks to the involvement of rodeo-oriented businesses, the city and Westerner Park came on board with them and the prize package for the FCA Finals gets a $15,000 boost. Mayor Morris Flewwelling has even agreed to serve as honorary chairperson of the event.
FCA director John Copithorne told a news conference the Foothills Association is one of the oldest semi-pro rodeo groups in the country.
He said that while it has an important role in cowboy and cowgirl development, it also provides entertainment for more than 20 rural communities across the province each year.
“You can come to the Finals to see the next generation of the pro ranks,” said Copithorne.
“But it also promotes a family lifestyle and allows families to go down the road together.”
Bentley’s Troy Pollit agrees. He finished the FCA’s regular season in second place in steer wrestling after the circuit’s last event in Cochrane on the weekend.
“My daughter barrel races too,” explains Pollit. “This is a nice hobby. It’s tough to keep a full-time job, keep the bills paid, and rodeo with a family. But that’s the real neat part about the whole thing. I’ve got my 10-year-old daughter and I’m pulling her down the highway. That’s what it’s all about with me, is the family part of it, bringing the kids up, getting them into this whole scene. It’s a nice way to raise a family.”
But it’s not always a smooth road. Pollit has battled some injury problems this season, including a badly bruised ankle at the start of the year, and now a dislocated kneecap. But that hasn’t stopped him from going.
“It happened at the Millarville rodeo four weeks ago,” the oilfield worker explained. “The steer kind of set up on me, and everything kind of swelled up in a hurry on that knee. That happened on a Friday night, we taped it up, and I think I won the rodeo on Sunday in Barrhead. You’ve got to make do with the injuries.” Pollit can make do a little better than most, since he’s got some built-in treatment expertise at home.
“My wife works at the physio clinic in Lacombe,” he smiled. “She bandaged me up, and off we went.”
Before Pollit gets a chance to try for the FCA championship, he’s got another circuit finals to take part in. But he knows he’ll need to be in top shape to win at Red Deer.
“These Finals are awesome. You’ve got top-notch cowboys from all over Alberta competing, and you’ve got past champions too.”
The top two finishers in the FCA after the Finals can move up to the pro ranks, if they choose. Pollit says it’s easy to see the impact of the semi-pro group in today’s pro world.
“We were just looking at the CPRA standings, and there’s half a dozen champions out of the FCA that are in contention for going to the CFR this year.”
For Pollit, it doesn’t hurt that the Finals are just up the road from his Bentley headquarters.
“It’s nice and close to home for me, so you get lots of family coming out, and a big cheering squad so it always drives you that next step.”
Reed Sparks is another cowboy who can count on plenty of support in the stands. The Innisfail cowboy finished the FCA season on top for the saddle bronc riding, and he’s also the defending champion.
“I always look forward to it,” said Sparks. “All my family gets to come and watch and the stock is awesome there. I’m really excited to be back for my third time. The first year I was there as a novice.
“It means a lot to me to go, and yeah, I’d like to defend that title. But it’s going to be tough. All my traveling partners this year made it, and every one of them rides good, so it’s going to be tough, but fun.”
Sparks is one of the up-and-comers who hopes to use an FCA top finish as a springboard to a pro rodeo career.
Sundre’s Stacy Lunde is a barrel racer who’s been in the pro ranks, but chooses to compete in the FCA instead.
“It pays nearly as much as the pros, and the horses are just as valuable,” Lunde commented, after a season in which she won more than $14,000 to finish third in the standings.
Other Central Alberta contenders for this year’s Cowboy Classic Finals will be Bowden’s Ky Marshall, tops in the all around race, and Kyle Rock of Olds who wound up as season leader in the bareback riding.
Stettler’s Riley Warren was the best calf roper, and the best heeler for team roping, with Tel Flewelling of Lacombe on top for headers. Ponoka’s Shayna Dodds is second in barrel racing, while neighbor Wacey Finkbeiner finished second in bull riding.
The Finals brings together the 10 best regular-season competitors to try for championship honors.
There will be four performances of the FCA Finals, set for Oct. 8th to 10th at the Stockmen’s Pavilion at Westerner Park.
Dianne Finstad is a regular contributor to the Red Deer Advocate and is the agriculture/rodeo director for Newcap Radio/CKGY/CIZZ FM in Red Deer.