Cokeville Rodeo packs them in for Pioneer Day

A bull rider begins to rethink his life choices at the annual Cokeville Pioneer Day Rodeo on July 22. Thankfully, he escaped unscathed. (GAZETTE PHOTO/Don Cogger)

Rodeo Pioneers honored; Hartley wins bull riding event

COKEVILLE — The town of Cokeville held its annual Pioneer Day celebration over the weekend of July 21-22, culminating in the Cokeville Pioneer Day Rodeo, hosted by the Cokeville Stock & Saddle Club.

This year’s junior rodeo — held all day Friday — featured nearly 600 entries, while Saturday’s open rodeo featured plenty of fan favorites, including mutton bustin’, a chicken and calf chase, barrel racing, tie down roping and plenty of bull and bronc riding.

“Things went really well,” said Jody Keetch, of the Cokeville Stock and Saddle Club. “It was a busy couple of days, but a fun couple of days. It’s a lot of work, a lot of preparation for those two days — we meet monthly for the whole year to put everything together, and as it gets closer, it becomes a couple of times a month. But it’s worth it when it all comes together.”

Over 400 tickets were sold for Saturday night’s open rodeo, and the stands were packed with rodeo fans from all over the area. Entertainment was provided by veteran barrel man and rodeo clown Randee Munns, whose brand of interactive humor has been putting smiles on the faces of rodeo fans for the better part of four decades.

“We get a lot of positive feedback, people commenting on how much work goes into the event, and it’s nice to know you’re appreciated,” Keetch said. “Everyone we heard from said it was a great rodeo — we had very few complaints or problems all weekend.”

Friday’s junior rodeo ran nearly six hours, but ran with military-like precision, despite a jaw-dropping number of entries.

“We had 593 entries in our junior rodeo,” she said. “One of the coolest things about that is it took us almost six hours to get through that many — about one minute per entry. For a junior rodeo on a hot day, that’s moving pretty quick, especially in one arena. The kids did outstanding at being where they needed to be, when they needed to be there, and it turned out to be a fantastic day.”

As for Saturday’s Main Event, Dominic Hartley finished in the top spot in bull riding with 71 points, while Giovanni Sanchez won the bareback event with a 65. Garrett Lloyd was the saddle bronc champion, with a score of 75.

In tie-down roping, Jade Pope won the event with a time of 10.26 seconds. On the women’s side, Kallee Munns set the standard in barrel racing, with a time of 18.57 seconds, while Kayla Merritt won the breakaway roping event in a time of 2.66.

In team roping, the duos of Cooper and Lars Jensen (6.56) and Jade Pope and Casey Perkins (7.28) earned championship honors, while the team of Duke Smith and Sage Cooley won the ribbon roping event, with a time of 9.96.

As for the ride of the night (as well as a smile that lit up the arena), Makardee Cornia won the mutton-bustin’ event, with a score of 79.

Asked what stood out to her about this year’s rodeo, Keetch said the crowd’s vocal support of each competitor made for a memorable experience, especially for those making their debut inside the arena.

“My daughter [Denali Keetch] was able to compete with the older girls in barrel racing, and she was just thrilled to hear the cheers of the crowd,” Keetch said. “It was such a cool experience for her and the rest of the young kids, to have that kind of crowd support. They’re not used to people cheering for them like that, and it’s a great feeling for them.”

Branding a Legacy

When the current rodeo committee took over in 2020, it vowed to return the Cokeville Rodeo to its core values and traditions. This year’s theme was “Branding a Legacy,” a fitting addition to the rodeo’s mission statement to Lead by Heritage.

“The original Cokeville Rodeo — I know my dad told me he remembers going as a little boy, bringing stock in with his dad,” Keetch said. “So we’re looking at least 75 years ago. We changed the direction of the arena and named it the Cokeville Stock and Saddle Club 28 years ago — 1995, I believe. By 2019, the rodeo had reached a low point — it wasn’t the rodeo we had grown up with. It wasn’t the same feeling, you didn’t have the crowd support, you didn’t have people there watching. I remember thinking, ‘We have to change this.’”

The new committee worked diligently to do just that, and the results have been evident, both in terms of attendance and quality of competition.

“The three things we really wanted to work on were community, crowd and contestants,” Keetch explained. “I think we’ve made a huge improvement in the growth we’ve had since 2020 — that was the first rodeo with our current board, and it was a huge success. What we really wanted to do was bring back the feeling of the past — that nostalgic feeling we all felt. We brought the induction of the Cokeville Rodeo Pioneers into fruition as a way to honor those that came before us. Anyone can nominate someone to be a Pioneer, and we vote on them. I think it’s a great honor for those families to be able to come back and see their loved one recognized for their efforts.”

This year’s Pioneer honorees included Stan Thompson, Sheri Kemp and Dale Clark, who were recognized for their efforts over the years.

Thompson was a fixture behind the scenes at the Cokeville Rodeo for decades, helping to construct chutes, pull gates and cook meat for the Pioneer Day barbecue.

“Stan Thompson carried on the tradition of barbecuing before the rodeo,” Keetch said. “It was something his parents and grandparents had done. We’re sad he was unable to be there Saturday, but grateful to have him as one of our Pioneers.”

Kemp wore a variety of hats for the rodeo over the years, along with her husband Blaine..

“Sheri Kemp was secretary and treasurer for quite a few years,” Keetch said. “She also worked as a timer, and continued to do that, even after she stepped down as secretary.”

Clark was recognized as the guy who would step in when needed, and was always just a phone call away.

“Dale Clark — talk about a happy, easy-going, life-is-good type of guy,” Keetch said. “He’s always looking out for everyone, how he can help. You ask him how he’s doing, and he always says, ‘Better than I deserve.’ What a cool attitude that is in life. He’s just one of those guys that you want to be around.”