By Kim Staudinger
The stage is set for the world's largest rodeo and first-year bareback rider Stephen Brown of Havre is up for the challenge.
Brown, who will be a sophomore at Havre High School in the fall, qualified to compete in the 54th annual National High School Finals Rodeo, held July 22-28 in Farmington, N.M.
The rodeo features more than 1,500 contestants from 39 states, four Canadian provinces and Australia, making it the world's largest rodeo, according to a press release from the NHSFR.
Brown qualified for the finals at the state rodeo competition in Sidney with scores of 70 and 74 in the bareback event. His 74 tied with Colter Davis of Helena for the top score of the weekend. It was Brown's highest of his career and earned him the Rookie Roughstock Award for the competition.
Brown said he expects other competitors' scores at the NHSFR to be in the mid 70s. He hopes to score an 80 or 85.
"I'm thinking about riding, about winning, trying to win," he said.
Although this is his first year rodeoing, Brown said his expectations are realistic.
"I think I can if I get a good horse," he said. "This is my first year but I think I can do it."
In addition to competing for more than $125,000 in prizes, Brown will also hopes to win a college scholarship. More than $170,000 will be handed out in college scholarships.
Contestants will also compete for the chance to be named the National High School Rodeo national champion. To earn the title of national champion, contestants must finish in the top 20 after two rounds of competition before advancing to Sunday's final championship performance, the NHSFR said.
Brown said he became interested in rodeo through his brothers and other family members who have participated in various rodeos.
"I didn't want to do it at first but they talked me into it," Brown said. "I was scared at first but then it was fun."
After having such a successful first season, Brown will participate in two events next year. Brown will also compete in the saddle bronc.
Brown and his family leave for New Mexico Friday and will return home from the competition on July 29.