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J. Shane Mercer, Published June 06 2009

Round up the family

Hawley Rodeo draws big crowds as community ‘bails in'

HAWLEY, Minn. - You tend to think of cowboys as lonesome and solitary.

But the thing that professional bull rider Bobby Welsh likes best about the rodeo life is he gets to bring his family along.

“And it’s complete freedom,” Welsh, 25, said before the start of the 50th annual Hawley Rodeo on Friday night. “If I have to go out on a weekend, obviously they get to come with me.”

That “we” is his wife, Sunny (“short for Sunshine”), and his three children.

“It’s fun, but it’s a lot of work,” said Sunny Welsh, who participates in barrel racing. “We travel with two horses, five dogs and three kids.”

The Welshes are just two of the 175 participants in this weekend’s Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association event.

Randy Taylor, the rodeo announcer, called it the “major leagues” of rodeo.

Contestants from 12 states and as far away as Arizona descended on this little Minnesota town for the weekend.

“It’s like a qualifying race for NASCAR” or the regular season of Major League Baseball, said Wally Mosbrucker, the rodeo’s promoter.

“This community has really bailed in to keep a major professional sport in this area,” Taylor said.

With jeans and cowboy hats aplenty, the event is as all-American as you can get. After an a capella version of the national anthem, the announcer called out, “Is there anybody proud to be an American tonight?”

Brandi Alm, who heads the rodeo with her husband, Lee, estimated the attendance at 1,400 about 8 p.m. Friday.

After the introductory events, including an invocation by Welsh, controlled bedlam ensued as grown men were slung around like ragdolls on mad animals. It is entertaining bedlam, though.

Events included bareback riding, steer wrestling saddle bronc riding, team roping, barrel racing and bull riding.

Mark Klevgaard of Hawley was out with his wife and two of his sons.

“It’s national entertainment at a local spot,” he said “Thought we’d take it in.”

Beth and Jeff Leighton of Detroit Lakes, Minn., were also at the rodeo, the same rodeo where they had their first date 10 years ago. They’ll celebrate their sixth anniversary this month.

As for why it’s lasted for 50 years, Tom Welter, a member of the Hawley Rodeo Committee, said, “It’s just become a tradition over the years.”

He said the event benefited from a general rise in the sport’s popularity.

“Rodeo came back in vogue again,” he said.

If you go


Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734