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High school rodeo riders ready for state championships

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For Tim Bingham, participating in high school rodeo will help him attain a college education and give him a way to make a living doing something that he loves.

For Jaimie Dannelly, high school rodeo has been a way to see the state and meet people she otherwise wouldn't get to know.

When the best high school rodeo athletes gather in Heber City on June 9, they will be competing for a lot of reasons. The most obvious goal is a chance to win a state title and a trip to the National High School Finals Rodeo

in July. As a team, Utah's rodeo athletes took second last year, and they won back-to-back national titles the two years prior to that.

Bingham, a senior from Fremont High, isn't just hoping for a third state title in bull riding in two weeks.

"I just want to go to Nationals," he said. "And, for me, I expect to make it to state."

It is especially rewarding competing this year because Bingham, who is currently in sixth place in the state's standings, missed 19 rodeos and six months after he broke his neck in August.

"I got bucked off and came down on an angle," he said.

He broke the sixth vertebra in his neck and miraculously never even suffered any numbness or tingling.

"I had a big headache," he said with a little laugh.

In fact, Bingham didn't even go to a doctor right away.

"My neck got stiff," he said. "I couldn't turn my head from one side to the other. That was the scary part. So I went to the doctor. The doctor was shocked."

Bingham waited three days to seek medical treatment because he said he didn't feel too bad after the fall.

"They said I should have had surgery that night," said Bingham, who ended up having surgery and wearing a halo to repair the broken vertebra.

The accident scared him, but it didn't keep him from a sport that has become his life's passion.

"I should have been toast," he said. "It kind of got me thinking a little bit. … It scared me. But then I just couldn't wait to ride again."

Despite missing much of the season because of the injury, Bingham is still in a position to earn a state title, as well as a fourth straight trip to Nationals. It is the latter that really gets him excited.

"It's been cool being back out there," said Bingham, who is the Utah High School Rodeo Association president. "After missing 19 rodeos, that'd be awesome if I made it to Nationals."

His hope is to win a national title, something he helped the state team do twice in his high school career.

Bingham, who graduated this past Monday, said he loves the challenge, the adrenaline and the camaraderie of rodeo.

"Almost everyone is friends," he said.

As for bull riding, he said he gravitated to it after a friend talked him into participating in the local club. He eventually gave up other sports because, he said, "I'm pretty good at it. It's a lot of fun."

In addition to preparing to go to college in Texas, where he will continue to rodeo, he is turning pro.

When asked what his favorite aspect of the sport is, he answers, "It pretty much has been the whole experience. I love riding. That's just what I do."

And while many students are like Bingham and hoping for a shot at Nationals, many other student-athletes will compete hard, despite not having a chance to make that national squad.

Dannelly had to retire the barrel horse who helped her to a third-, second- and fourth-place finish. Riding that horse, she qualified for Nationals three of her four years.

"We had to retire the horse I was riding," said Dannelly, who rides for the Enterprise Club and will graduate from Enterprise High. "I am riding a young one."

Her goal is to season her young horse and, hopefully, eventually take him to some pro rodeo competitions.

In the meantime, Dannelly, who also participates in goat tying, will attend Southern Utah University, where she will major in English.

The youngest of five children, Dannelly said her "family was just always involved in rodeo."

She also played basketball for the Wolves, but loves the places rodeo has taken her.

"It's time consuming, but it's worth it," she said. "I've made a lot of friends through it, and I've seen a lot of places around the state that some of my friends have not. I've gone to Nationals, and having that experience of meeting kids from all over the nation was amazing."

She said competing on a national stage is unlike any other experience she has had.

"It's a lot of pressure, but a lot of fun," she said.

Like Bingham, she was part of the Utah teams that won those two national titles.

"That was a lot of fun, to know you've won," she said. "We have to beat Texas; they're our arch-enemies."

And it is especially satisfying to know that Utah's team is significantly smaller than the Texas squad. The Lone Star State's team boasts more than 1,000 kids, while Utah's numbers are a few hundred. Still, it seems Utah and Texas are battling every summer for the country's top prep rodeo prize.

Dannelly also enjoys rodeo because it enables an entire family to be involved.

"It's a really family-oriented experience," she said. "I think it also teaches you self-discipline because you have to practice on your own. You don't have a coach always there to tell you what to do."

The Utah High School State Finals Rodeo begins June 9, with two performances daily at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. through June 11. Each student competes twice during that time, with a chance to earn points toward a state title. The top 10 competitors after three days will compete on Saturday, June 12, at 4 p.m., in the final competition.

email: adonaldson@desnews.com