Hoping to hang on for eight seconds at national event
HIGH SCHOOL RODEO
After getting a feel for national competition last summer, Ty Sova is going back to the National High School Rodeo Finals, bumping up this year to the high school division.
Sova, who completed his freshman year at Medford Area Senior High this spring, qualified to compete in two areas at this year’s national championships –– bull riding and small bore rifle shooting.
The national event will take place July 17-23 in Guthrie, Okla. after getting switched from its initially-planned site of Lincoln, Neb.
In June of 2019 in Huron, S.D., Sova competed in bull riding and bareback steer riding at the junior high level, just missing the “short go” finals in each category which feature the riders with the top 20 scores after two rides. He did that while still recovering from a broken ankle suffered in early May when he was stepped on by a bull. This season, which was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic, Sova placed first among Wisconsin high school bull riders and fourth among small bore rifle shooters. The top four finishers in the state in each of the multiple events offered in the rodeo series qualify for state. Normally, there is a Wisconsin High School Rodeo Association finals event, but this year’s state finals, scheduled for June 12-14 in Richland Center were canceled. Places were determined by standings after the fall portion of the state’s rodeo season.
Sova said he’s been bull riding for about four to five years.
“Two of my older cousins used to ride bulls back when they were younger and then my oldest cousin gave me all of his old gear after he was done,” he said. “So that was pretty cool. Then we went to some rodeos with my other cousins and saw the bull riding and all that stuff and I just decided to try it and I’ve been with it ever since then.”
In Sova’s opinion, getting good at it requires determination more than anything else.
“You gotta work hard and keep getting after it, practicing and stuff like that,” he said. “You just gotta be determined and keep trying and trying, even if you aren’t very good. Keep trying and you’ll eventually get your way up to where you can compete and do well. You just can’t give up.”
Sova said it took at least a year or two before he truly felt comfortable on a bull.
“(The first ride) was not very good. It’s kind of nervous and scary to start with,” he said. “I didn’t stay on very long at all.”
The goal of a bull rider is to stay on the bucking animal for eight seconds. If the rider makes it to eight seconds, a panel of two to four judges then scores the ride, splitting their focus on the bull and the rider to a maximum of 50 points. Scores by the bull judge(s) and rider judge(s) are then added for a final score than can max out at 100. Bulls and riders are matched up through random draws.
At the national event, riders compete in two rounds, which are divided into about six different performances. The top 20 finishers through two rounds then advance to the finals.
“I’m hoping to ride them and place out there obviously,” Sova said. “I want to make good rides and just be a part of the team and help them out.”
Ty’s father, Ken Sova, estimated the bulls national-qualifying high school riders try to tame are in the range of about 1,200 pounds.
“90-plus (is the goal),” Ken Sova said. “Those are hard to come by. Last year, Ty had a 74 on one ride and that won the performance he was in. He took second in the round. There weren’t too many above that score. If you can fall into the mid 80s, or 80 plus, that’s a pretty decent ride. Everybody talks about that 90-plus ride. Those are the elite ones.”
In the fall portion of the 2019-20 Wisconsin high school season, Sova got scores as high as 78 and 80 at Holmen and 82 at Viroqua.
Also an accomplished wrestler who qualified for sectionals with the Medford Raiders, Sova said similar traits are needed to be successful in both sports.
“In both wrestling and bull riding you need to be quick,” Ty said. “You don’t have to think about it, you just have to do it right away. They’re both physical. You have to be in decent shape. You can’t just do nothing all the time, you have to keep active.
“Every time you get on a bull, when you’re done, you’re sore a little bit and banged up from hitting the ground,” he added. “Sometimes the bull gets you a little bit and bruises you or twists your arm around or something like that.”
While most Wisconsin rodeo enthusiasts may not have their own practice pens, which are more common in western and southern states, the state does offer more competitive opportunities than one might think.
There are two youth rodeo associations in Wisconsin, the Wisconsin High School Rodeo Association and Little Britches of Wisconsin (LBW). The LBW hosted its first event of the summer over July 4 weekend in Highland. Ty won the senior boys bull riding competition by earning a score of 74 on his Saturday ride. Ken Sova said in a normal year, the two organizations typically alternate weekends with their events. Ty’s cousins Abby and Rachel Sova are also rodeo participants, which makes the rodeo circuit a family event.
“It gets to be like camping every weekend almost,” Ken Sova said. “You get to be a rodeo family. You’re seeing most of the same kids and people every weekend. It’s a nice organization. It’s a good time a good thing for the kids it shows them responsibility, work ethic. No matter what you’re doing, whether it’s bull riding or shooting, there’s a lot of competition there.”
The shooting portions of the competition, small bore rifle and trap shooting, offer more opportunities for kids to be involved. The small bore rifle shooting Sova is in features .22 caliber rifles. Competitors take 12 shots at 50 yards from three positions –– prone, kneeling and standing. A maximum score after 36 shots is 360.
“There are different things in there that you don’t normally see at a regular rodeo,” Ken Sova said. “It’s just one of those things where they’re trying to expose kids to different things. Some of it’s strictly related to the rodeo, some of it is just kind of western lifestyle, if you want to call it that.”