BELLE FOURCHE | Hundreds of young riders and thousands of friends and family members are arriving in Belle Fourche for the 64th annual South Dakota High School Rodeo Association Finals Rodeo, which begins today.
It's rodeo's version of a high school state tournament and it features high school age rodeo competitors at the historic Roundup Groups rodeo arenas in Belle Fourche.
The performances are open to the public. Ticket sales help cover costs of producing one of South Dakota's biggest rodeo events of the year.
The event begins with boys and girls divisions of cattle cutting competition. Cutting is an intricate dance involving a horse and rider partnership. An individual critter is "cut" from a small herd, then the horse and rider twist and turn to counter the animal's natural inclination to return to the herd.
Rodeo performances with more familiar riding and roping events will be held Friday and Saturday in the Roundup Grounds' twin arenas. The championship "short go-round" begins Sunday at 10 a.m. with the coronation of a new state high school rodeo queen.
The high school riders from across the state have been competing in a spring series to win a place in the state finals — and a chance at riding at nationals.
Rough stock riders, ropers and racers in high school rodeo are covered under the association that is separate from the state's high school activities association.
High schools with large enough numbers of competitors usually have a club with advisors to help their student athletes. Belle Fourche High School, for example, had 20 students qualify for the state finals rodeo.
After Sunday's final championship rodeo round, the top competitors are signed to compete as a state team at the High School National Finals, which will be held this year in Wyoming.