Jack Bentz won’t soon forget his first time in Helix.
The Crane cowboy scored an 85 to take first place in the saddle bronc event to open Saturday’s 19th annual Heart of the Country Rodeo, hosted by the rural Eastern Oregon town.
“This is my first time ever being in this town,” said Bentz, 21. “It’s been fun. This is a well-put-together rodeo.”
Bentz walked away with a handmade belt buckle, a framed Heart of the Rodeo poster, a custom Riggin bag, a cowboy hat from the Pendleton Hat Company, and prize money collected from the rodeo pool.
But this is far from his first major accomplishment in an arena. In just three years as a professional saddle bronc rider, Bentz has already won the Idaho Cowboys Association Rookie of the Year title, and has qualified for the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas for the last two years.
This year, he has his sights set on the Farm-City Pro Rodeo in Hermiston and the Pendleton Round-Up.
“This is a huge confidence-booster,” Bentz said of his Helix win. “This is good for me. Hopefully, I can keep this momentum going into the summer.”
In the long round, Bentz’ 85 score edged out Paradise Valley, Nevada, brothers Joe and Sam Harper, who each scored an 80.
Bentz didn’t fare quite as well in the final-round shoot out, where he earned a 71. Joe Harper took the bonus $500 cash prize with his score of 79.
Hermiston native Seth Hopper held the top spot on the leaderboard for the meat of the calf roping event with his 8.87-second time, but couldn’t tie down his calf in the second round. Cooper Mills of Centreville, Virginia, who finished at 9.19 seconds in the first round, roped his calf in 10.19 seconds in round two for a combined 19.38 final time to take first place.
Local ropers Trent Sorey of Pendleton and Jason Minor of Ellensburg, Washington, also competed in the event, but could not out-rope Mills.
Just one cowboy was able to finish in the bull riding event. Austin Covington of Omak, Washington, scored an 82 to take the first and only prize awarded for the event — all of the other competitors could not stay atop their raging bulls, receiving no score.
But the life of a rodeo cowboy is one lived on the road, and the 21-year-old Covington was well on his way to his next competition in Cooley City, Washington, before he could be presented his prize package, which included a $1,200 check.
Tenley Woollard was the day’s youngest champion. The 11-year-old cowgirl took the top spot in the barrel racing event, finishing at 16.27 seconds. This year was Woollard’s fourth at the Helix rodeo, and it was her first as a winner.
The proud rider said it felt “really good” to finally take home the first-place award, which included a Heart of the Country belt buckle and framed poster.
Funds raised at the rodeo went directly back into the community, benefitting local scholarship funds and organizations.
“This was probably one of the better rodeos we’ve had here, both in overall attendance and stock,” said rodeo president Jarod Campbell. “Of course, there’s always things to tweak. We’re a nonprofit organization. Everything we do here benefits the community. That’s what sets us apart from these other rodeos.”