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High school trio comes back with accolades, memories

July 29, 2017 GMT

Three Kittitas County athletes came home last week from Gillette, Wyo., after competing at the National High School Finals Rodeo.

Jacob Sparling, Karli Scelzi and Austin Gordon all earned spots on the Washington state team after finishing in the top four of their respective events in the state standings after the State Finals Rodeo during Memorial Day weekend in Kennewick.

All three were guaranteed at least two rounds of action, with the top 20 in each event moving on to the short go finale. A top 20 in a national competition is difficult to come by, especially with more than 1,600 total high school athletes from around the world competing.

Sparling – roping with team roping partner Chance Hays – made that top 20 cutoff and earned the right to take on one more steer under the lights last Saturday. Sparling and Hays drew one of the fastest steers in the herd and finished with a time of 31.44 seconds, certainly a slower time than what they wanted, but it allowed them to finish 14th in the standings with a 59.47 on three.

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“It was an unbelievable experience to be a part of this rodeo,” Sparling said, “especially how I ended up where I did.”

Sparling and Hays roped a 15.42-second steer in round one, but were 12.61 in the second round.

“We stayed with our gameplan on being consistent and getting catches rather than the fastest time,” he said. “It was a heckuva environment. That whole grandstand was full for that final night.”

Sparling just graduated high school and the immediate future is more roping, including local jackpots. All this for a roper who got bitten by the roping bug at the end of eighth grade when former CWU athletic director Jack Bishop asked Sparling to warm up his horse before a roping.

“I just found a complete passion with roping. Once you get bit by it, it’s addictive,” he said. “I’ve taken a lot of advice from a lot of different people.”

Scelzi’s horse took some time warming up to the amped up environment of the crowd and media distractions, but once she did, she put together a quality run. Scelzi and her six-year old mare rounded the first go-round pattern in 19.215 seconds, but the experience of round one certainly helped in round two.

Scelzi is a four-year veteran of the National High School Finals, so she knew what to expect with the environment, however, she was riding a young horse on her first run in Gillette.

“First round wasn’t very good,” Scelzi admitted. “I took a young horse and going in there, my horse wasn’t very confident. Cameras everywhere, big screen, not very confident.

“By the second run, she blocked it out and she made her run.”

And that run was night-and-day different, crossing the line in 17.845 seconds for 67th in the round out of 187 qualified times. Her two-run average of 37.06 seconds was 104th out of 190 contestants.

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Scelzi’s decision to compete at nationals on a green horse was a calculated one at that as she had recently sold her veteran horse she used during the high school season.

“It was a business decision, it was the best thing for me at the time,” she said. “If I had run Nationals on her, it would’ve been the wrong decision. I want to make a living training horses.”

Her next step is moving to Coolidge, Ariz., and joining the rodeo team at Central Arizona College, a powerhouse program in the college rodeo circuit.

Gordon still has another year to go before moving toward college, so right now his sights are set on making the High School Finals for a third straight year after hopefully winning the Washington state bull riding title in 2018.

This year though, the Ellensburg bull rider nodded his head in the chute twice in Gillette, but suffered buck offs both times.

“Those two bulls were outstanding bulls,” he said. “They have been to pro shows.”

His first rounder was on a bull from Birch Rodeo.

“He was just a good bull out, went to the left which was away from my riding hand,” Gordon said. “Judge marked him 44 points, which was awesome.”

As for round two?

“Just an outstanding bull, went right back into my hand to the right,” Gordon remembered. “He was definitely a fun bull to get on. The next day the reigning national champ got on him and he bucked him off too.”

Now the focus is amateur rodeos, but high school rodeo is on the horizon in the fall. Gordon plans on getting on another 15 or so bulls this summer, including tonight at the Cle Elum Roundup. Despite the better paydays at amateur rodeos, high school remains his primary focus as success there can attract attention of college teams.

“I’ll be more than ready for those to start up again,” he said. “It’s just a matter of how healthy can you keep yourself? Right now, the high school stuff counts the most for me when I’m trying to prepare for college and try to earn a scholarship.”