By Mike Maltais
When the chute gates swing open at the 44th annual Methow Valley Memorial Day Rodeo Saturday and Sunday (May 23-24), the fate of a rough stock competitor will revolve around two dynamics: his skill as a rider and the effort put forth by a bucking horse or bull trying to dislodge him.
In the middle of all that action will be rodeo judge Jason Newman, whose job it is to determine which combination of the two delivers the goods sufficient to finish in the money.
Newman, 32, a Winthrop resident, is the youngest member of the Methow Valley Horsemen, the group of local cowboys and cowgirls who, for the past four-plus decades, have staged the twice-yearly local rodeos on Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.
It’s no easy call to select the best rides from the also-rans in the space of 8 frantic seconds, since a rodeo judge has to rate the performance of both rider and mount in an equal allocation of points. Newman will share judging duties with Bill Richter, a familiar fixture on the rodeo circuit as both a former competitor and judge.
Richter and Newman will judge bull riding, traditional saddle bronc and ranch saddle bronc, along with timing the barrel racers.
“Each judge scores one to 25 points for the animal and one to 25 points for the rider,” Newman explained of the rough stock events.
The judges total each rider’s score and submit the figure to the announcer’s booth that this year will be manned by Dale Haugen from Sedro-Woolley.
With as much as $2,500 up for grabs in a single event, there’s plenty at stake for those with the pluck to risk life and limb in pursuit of a big pay day.
Lots of help
Aero Methow Rescue Service will be on hand at the Twin Lakes arena again this year to address life and limb needs for the riders, and Twisp veterinarian Dan DeWeert will do the same for the stock.
Veteran rodeo contractor Red Clark, of C&C Rodeos, will once again provide the stock for both days of competition, said MVH president Dennis Gardner.
Among the clowns will be Scott (“Scotty-Too-Hottie”) Wagner distracting the bulls together with his young sidekick, Lucien Paz, helping out the mutton busters.
Purses will include $2,500 for ranch saddle bronc, $1,500 for bulls, and $500 apiece for saddle bronc and barrel racing, Gardner said.
The Colville Cowgirls Drill Team will entertain the crowd with its precision horsemanship.
This year’s rodeo royalty is represented by Queen Makhala Fox, from Concrete, and Princess Mahayla Phillips of Twisp.
The admittance gates open at 1 p.m. both days with Saturday featuring the junior rodeo.
It was junior rodeo that first introduced Newman to the bulls and broncs when, as a life-long valley resident, he began competing as a natural extension of growing up around rodeo people.
“My dad worked with Roger Hammer for over 30 years,” Newman said. “I traveled to rodeos with Roger’s family and got into competing with his older boy, Garrett.”
“I rode bulls and some bareback bronc, and did chute doggin,’” Newman said.
As the term implies, chute doggin’ is a form of steer wrestling where the contestant grabs his steer from the ground as it exits a chute rather than from the back of a running horse.
Newman attended school in Pateros through seventh grade before transferring to Liberty Bell High School to complete grades eight through 12. During that time he continued to ride bulls and some bareback horses in local rodeos. One of his favorite venues was the junior rodeo held at Nespelem.
“The people there were always very nice and it was a fun rodeo,” Newman recalled.
In 2000, Newman joined the Navy under the delayed entry program and was stationed aboard the first U.S. carrier dispatched to the Persian Gulf following the World Trade Center attack on Sept. 11, 2001.
“I worked in the engine rooms on water distilling units and diesel generators,” Newman said.
In 2004 at the conclusion of his military service, Newman left the Navy behind and returned to the Methow Valley. He tried his hand at bull riding for another season but had second thoughts when the paydays kept ending up in the wrong pockets.
“I was making way more money for other people than I was taking home,” Newman concluded.
Seven years ago Newman hired on with the Washington State Department of Transportation as a maintenance technician, where his duties take him from “Pateros to Granite Creek on the other side of Rainy Pass” and all points between, he said. It was around that time that he also joined the Methow Valley Horsemen to become part of the core of the next generation of rodeo promoters.
“Since I’m the youngest member I’m normally called upon for the heavy work,” he joked.
At the other end of the spectrum is Tom Graves who, at 85, is the oldest member of the group and one of its original seven founders.
“Without Tom this thing doesn’t really fly,” Gardner said of the Horsemen’s senior member. “He keeps everyone pointed in the right direction and on track.”
Newman has a mixed-breed mare named Piper that he ranges on his dad’s property and uses for trips into the back country. His love of the remote regions has led him to help local outfitters Ryan Surface and Jess Darwood with their set-up trips and drop camps.
Whenever he can, Newman likes to get away for some hunting or snowmobiling but those occasions have to be arranged around his other priorities among which is Liberty Bell High School wrestling. He first took up wrestling as a high school sophomore, “too late to be competitive,” Newman claimed, but not too late to develop a strong connection to the sport.
Following a couple of years as a volunteer with former Mountain Lions’ varsity coach Gunnar Johnson, Newman shouldered the commitment to coach the junior high wrestlers six years ago. He also finds time to travel with and help out the varsity team and referee at area matches when Liberty Bell is not competing.
“We’re going to be tough again this year,” Newman predicts of the current crop of Mountain Lions varsity wrestlers. “Probably similar to last year, in the top four or five at state.”
Newman and wife, Rebecca, have been married six years. Their daughter, Amie, just turned four years old this month.
A mutton-buster in the making?
Newman was non-committal.
“We’ll see,” he said.