A young Gaston cowboy's perch atop the Oregon high school rodeo heap came down to his final ride on Sunday
by: photo by Chase Allgood,

For Kyle Tidwell, it all came down to the last calf.

For 42 weeks, since the season opener, no other young cowboy had been able to loosen the Gaston junior's grip on first-place in tie down roping in the Oregon High School Rodeo Association.

But last Sunday, Tidwell knew he needed a solid time on his final calf to hold on to his title at the state finals in Klamath Falls.

'All the kids were roping really tough,' Tidwell said Monday, the day after the final event. 'I knew I had to be pretty quick.'

In the final round, the two riders before him had posted times of 10.3 seconds, then 10.4. Tidwell figured he had to get close to 12 seconds to hold the lead he'd fought for all season long.

He also knew that he had drawn a tough calf for his last run, which wouldn't make things easier.

Mounted on his brother's horse, Bundy, Tidwell chased down and roped the calf, as the seconds ticked away.

He dismounted, flipped the calf on its side and tied three of its legs together.

The clock showed 12.2 seconds. The time secured him a third-place finish in the state final, but more importantly, clinched his first-place finish for the year, though just by just 5 points.

If he had been a half-second slower, he said, he would have fallen to second place.

'I was just trying to make solid runs and place everywhere and win,' Tidwell said.

The finish earns Tidwell a spot, along with the other three top ropers, at the National High School Rodeo Association National Finals in Springfield, Ill. next month. It is the second time the 16-year-old will compete in the nationals.

As a rider from the western half of the state, Tidwell is a rarity on the OHSRA circuit. In fact, of the nearly 300 participants in the circuit, he's the only one who resides in Washington County. Without a school-sponsored rodeo club, he competes on the high school circuit as an independent rider, meaning he pays his own way to rodeos as much as 300 miles away, and has to purchase most of his own equipment.

The trip to Illinois will be Tidwell's second shot in the national competition, in which four riders from each state vie for high school bragging rights in each of 14 different events.

Tidwell struggled as a 15-year-old at last year's nationals in Gillette, Wyo., but thinks he has a better chance this year now that he has another year of experience under his belt.

'The nerves aren't getting to me as much this year,' he said, 'I've got those under control now,' he said.

For the national competition, each of the riders will rope two calves. The riders with the top 15 average times from the first two calves advance to the final round, known as the 'short go.'

'I just need two solid runs,' Tidwell said.

He figures he will need to complete the first two runs in about 11 seconds each to have a chance at the short go. That might not sound like much time, but he has done it in as little as 9.9 seconds before.

'I haven't been longer than 13 (seconds) on a calf in a long time,' Tidwell said.

To prepare for the nationals, Tidwell will continue the same practice regimen he has all season, working on his skills every evening from 7 p.m. until sundown.

He is also competing in professional rodeos every weekend, including two this week in Tillamook and Grand Ronde. He landed a third place finish at pro rodeo in Myrtle Creek last weekend on his way to the state final.

Tidwell will compete at the nationals July 24-30, but Bundy, his brother's horse who carried him through the last two months of the season after his own horse suffered a broken leg, will not be coming with him.

Instead, he will borrow a friend's horse, rather than subject Bundy to the long ride. 'My brother's horse doesn't need to travel that far,' Tidwell said. 'He's too good of a horse.'

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