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Windom readies for regional rodeo competition

WINDOM -- In 1956, Gwen Fleace participated in the very first Minnesota State High School Rodeo competition in Walnut Grove.

Fifty years later, she remembers it well.

"I remember that I really wanted to do well in the pole bending. I won it on the first day, and the second day I knocked a pole down. And that put me to third place in the average," she said. "... My dad told me he'd take me to nationals if I won two events, and I knew I blew it. And then I won the queen contest. I had the impression that he knew that beforehand, because someone had told him. I could tell by the smile on his face."

Fleace, of Round Lake, did go to the nationals that year. She paid for her own gas to get to Reno, Nev., too.

This month, on the 50th anniversary of the Minnesota State High School Rodeo, the rodeo returns to southwest Minnesota. A regional competition will take place at the Windom Arena on April 29 and 30.

Dave and Lori Ling, Windom, are helping to stage the event that is expected to showcase roughly 200 contestants from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa.

"It's looking real good," Dave said Tuesday. "It's coming together real well."

It has been more than 20 years since Windom has staged a rodeo event as big as a regional high school rodeo, Ling said, and he's hoping 600 to 700 spectators will appear to witness bareback bronc riding, calf roping, team roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, bull riding and many more events.

Though rodeo isn't as popular with the general public as football or basketball, Ling said it still enjoys a healthy following.

"Really, I kind of think it's growing. It's changed through the years. The way I see it, it used to be a lot more farm kids," he explained. "Now, you see a lot more people from the cities and metro areas with horses that are competing more than ever before."

The Lings have a 13-year-old daughter who competes in all six junior events. The younger of their two sons, who is 18, is preparing for steer wrestling, calf roping and team roping events in the Windom rodeo.

"I competed in high school and college and still compete in MRAs (Minnesota Rodeo Association events) with my son," Dave said.

Ling and Fleace agree that rodeo is family-friendly.

"It's a good family sport. My family's been in it since the kids were 8 or 9," Ling said.

"Rodeo is a sport in which the people who are in it compete against each other, but they also support each other," said Fleace, whose grandson, Ian, is a third generation rodeo competitor.

Ian, who attends Worthington Middle School, is in his first year of high school rodeo, and he has reached the nationals in "Little Britches Rodeo." Gwen also has a daughter who competed at the national level and another daughter who was Regional All-Around Cowgirl. She has a son who rode at the state and regional level. Two of Gwen's sisters, Arlys and Marjorie, competed with her at the national level.

The 2006 Windom event will get under way April 28 with barrel racing exhibitions beginning at 6 p.m. At 10 a.m. April 29, actual competition is set to begin.

Doug Wolter

Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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