The end of an era is often bittersweet.
That’s how it was for the many Utah Valley senior cowboys and cowgirls that saw their Utah high school rodeo careers draw to a close Saturday night with the last performance of the finals at the Wasatch County Fairgrounds in Heber City.
“It’s really satisfying,” Payson senior Amanda Butler said. “I gave it my all, came out and was successful. I’m sad to leave but I’m happy too because I’m ending on a good note.”
While all of the athletes will treasure their experiences and the friendships, a number of them — like Butler, Springville senior Clayson Hutchings, American Fork senior Jack Christensen and Westlake senior Lane Walk – also got to make one final memory.
Walk might have had the most dramatic moment in the final performance as he settled onto a bull named Ching-a-ling and waited for the chute to open.
“It’s wild and fun,” Walk said. “It’s hard to explain. It takes a different mindset.”
The Thunder cowboy who rides for the Lehi rodeo club held on with everything he had as Ching-a-ling bucked and spun underneath him. Walk not only stayed on for the required eight seconds to get a score but was still riding two or three seconds later before he finally jumped clear.
“He was a nice bull but I got him rode,” Walk said. “I just didn’t hear the buzzer. That’s the best feeling.”
He tallied 80 points for his ride, giving him a win in the performance and second place overall for the week.
“It’s pretty cool,” Walk said. “It was fun.”
Walk wasn’t the only Utah Valley roughstock rider who finished strong.
Hutchings (who rodeos for the Wasatch club) wrapped up his high school saddle-bronc career in style as well, barely edging out his cousin Scott Lauaki in the finals with a 73-point ride (Lauaki scored 71).
“When you have a good horse under you and you are in rhythm, there is nothing like it,” Hutchings said. “It feels amazing.”
The Red Devil cowboy — who secured the saddle bronc state title this week — took a moment to think back over the last couple of years, since unlike many of the athletes he has only been competing in rodeo for the last three years.
“No one in our family ever did rodeo,” Hutchings said. “We just raised cows. But we went to rodeos and thought it looked like fun. Finally my uncle, Dave Murdock, convinced my dad (George Hutchings) to get some bronc saddles three years ago and we started riding. To go from there to winning state is pretty amazing.”
Christensen — another Lehi club representative — also hasn’t been doing rodeo very long but he was able to successfully defend his state title in boys cow cutting.
“It was pretty exciting,” Christensen said. “I had to prove that I could do it again, that it wasn’t a hoax. There was a little bit of pressure but I just had to go get it done.”
He said it feels pretty good to end his high school career being undefeated.
Butler (who rodeos for South Utah County) understands a little bit about dealing with pressure, since the Lion cowgirl was came in to the year as the defending state and national champion in the barrel racing — a title she successfully defended.
“Consistency is what wins,” Butler said. “If you are consistent and make a good run every time, it’s better than letting the emotions get in your head. This year has been way better than last year. I won all three rounds and that is crazy.”
She said she is excited for the future for all the senior cowboys and cowgirls, many of whom she has gotten to know really well over the years.
“I want to be there shaking hands with everyone but I’m not the student president anymore,” Butler said. “I want to give everyone a big hug but I can’t and that’s kind of sad.”
Two other Utah Valley cowboys joined Butler, Christensen and Hutchings as state champions as South Utah County’s Jace Hanks and Lehi’s Wyatt Ahlstrom won the team roping competition.
Those champions, along with other local athletes (see info box), will be headed to Rock Springs, Wyoming, in July for the 2019 National High School Rodeo Finals for one more chance to show what they can do at the high school level.
After that, some plan to see what they can do in professional rodeo.
We’re going to go see what we can do,” Hutchings said. “If it doesn’t work, we’ll come back, go to college and get a real job.”
Many of the others are planning to head to UVU and compete with the Wolverine rodeo club.
Either way, the seniors know they have to start thinking about the future.
“It’s weird to be here,” Christensen said. “I’m not ready for it but we’ll see what happens.”