Award-winning rodeo returns to Kitsap

The Kitsap County Fair and Stampede keeps growing in popularity with rodeo contestants from around the country and Canada who appreciate the little things that make their lives a little better.

There aren’t too many spots where riders can get three home-cooked meals a day, their clothes cleaned for free, and massage and chiropractic services on the spot. And the little things add up, since they have voted the four-day event as the Columbia River Circuit Rodeo of the Year two years running.

The grand spectacle of entertainment and skill begins tonight at 7 p.m. and continues through Saturday, Aug. 24. Tickets are available at local merchants and at the Fairgrounds gate.

This year’s rodeo features its largest group of competitors ever in bareback riding, bull riding, calf roping, saddle bronc riding, steer roping, steer wrestling, team roping and barrel racing. A record early 400 riders preregistered for a chance to win part of the $100,000-plus in prize money.

“I’ve never seen it like this before,” said Rodeo Association director Gene Johnson, who’s helped organize the rodeo since 1979. “I’m looking forward to this year and getting things going.”

The local riders taking their shot at the prize money are Gary Bruhn Jr. of Port Orchard, Dyame Drury of Kingston and crowd favorite Clint Corey, former Silverdale resident and 1991 world bareback champion, scheduled to ride tomorrow night.

Bruhn is making his first appearance as a competitor tomorrow night as well in the saddle bronc riding. A rodeo competitor since age 9, Bruhn remembered seeing his father Gary, Sr., and his uncle, Joe Bruhn, ride broncs in the Stampede.

“I’ve always wanted to enter it,” said the 23-year-old Bruhn. “It’s something I watched as a kid, so I’m pretty excited.”

Bruhn received his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association card last year, but didn’t start riding the circuit until last month after a couple of years at smaller events.

“I’m a farrier—a horse-shoer—and I do rodeo on the side,” Bruhn said. “I have fun with it and make a little money.”

Money is what draws the big names to Kitsap County, like Corey, and five-time world team roping champion Speed Williams.

“This time of the year everybody’s juggling for position, trying to make the Top 15 for the National Finals Rodeo(NFR),” Johnson said. “There’s 10 rodeos in this region they come to and with the money we put up, they can’t help but come.”

But that’s not why they keep talking about what Kitsap does for them for the rest of the season.

“We offer them a lot trying to make their life here comfortable, a home away from home for them,” Johnson said. “It’s not just another stop on the way to the NFR. This is a place where they can go and have a good time, meals and enjoy the scenery.”

The biggest change is one most spectators aren’t likely to see. Underneath the grandstand the old railroad tie and guardrail pens have been replaced with top-of-the-line steel pens that give plenty of room for stock to roam around in.

“It looks good—more professional,” Johnson said.

Funded through the Kitsap Rodeo Cowpokes, the rodeo’s fund-raising arm, the new fencing means that stock contractors Growney Brothers Rodeo of Red Bluff, Calif., won’t be afraid to bring out their best.

“John Growney told me ‘get new pens and I’ll bring my finest stock, period,’” Cowpokes President Jon Jennings recalled from a conversation he had with the stock contractor last year.

Last year’s rain kept many from taking advantage of bleachers installed ringside, but weather shouldn’t be much of a factor this time around with forecasts predicting clouds, sun and mid-80 temperatures.

“They were there last year but nobody paid much attention to them,” Johnson said.

“Those seats are out there for the Buckle Club (the Cowpokes membership) and major sponsors,” Jennings said. “We’d like to get more bleachers but they cost $30,000 each.”

With the bleachers, Thunderbird Stadium now seats 5,500 screaming rodeo fans.

“It gets the fans down close next to the action, because that’s where everybody wants to be anyway,” Johnson said.

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