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Libby rodeo attracting cowboys

| July 29, 2005 12:00 AM

Bucking broncs and twisting bulls will be coming out of the gates Friday and Saturday night in Libby for the second Kootenai River Rodeo at the new arena at J. Neils Memorial County Park.

The rodeo will start at 7:30 p.m. on both days. Gates open at 4 p.m. Admission is $8 in advance or $10 at the gate. Advance tickets will not be sold after 3 p.m. on Friday.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association event has 143 cowboys and cowgirls registered to ride including a pair of hometown cowboys — bull rider P.J. Morrison Jr. and roper Chance Bernall, who now lives in Dillon.

Morrison, 32, is coming off a win at the Tobacco Valley Rodeo last weekend at Eureka. He scored an 82 riding Hoot Wine at the Northern Rodeo Association event. In early June, Morrison won the bull riding event at the Hot Springs Rodeo and grabbed a second place at the PRCA rodeo at Polson, too.

The Libby bull rider is currently ranked 18th on the Montana rodeo circuit with 278 points.

"My goal this year is to win the Montana circuit," Morrison said, while admitting he is finding it hard to participate in the minimum number of rodeos.

Morrison works fulltime for Genesis at the Troy Mine and does a number of odd jobs on the side to support his family and his rodeo habit.

There is a minimum number of rodeos a cowboy must attend to accumulate enough points to qualify for the finals.

"I have a lot of rodeos left so I think I can finish in the top 5," Morrison said.

Morrison has been riding bulls since he was 15 and traveled to rodeos where his dad, Phil Morrison, was riding. Last week, a third Morrison joined the rodeo action when two-year-old Zack rode a sheep at Eureka in the Mutton Buster. His dad, PJ, is looking to channel some hometown crowd energy into a win to boost his points and ranking on the circuit.

"It's a little different," PJ said of riding in front of the hometown crowd. "I shouldn't think it should be different but you know a lot of people here and it puts a lot of pressure on you."

"I'm learning to deal with it by just focusing on the task at hand."

He said for several years, he considered Eureka a home rodeo because of the favorable way the crowds always reacted to his name being announced.

On Thursday of next week, Morrison heads to the rodeo in Helena on his day off from his "day job."

"They're pretty supportive of me," he said of Genesis and his co-workers.

Among the other bull riders coming to Libby will be Craig Delgarno of Harlowton who is currently ranked 2nd on the Montana circuit, J.C. Bean of Goldendale, Wash., who is ranked 4th on the Columbia River circuit and Richard Bird of Cut Bank, ranked fifth on the Montana cicuit. Other ranked bullriders are Steven Lambert of Bozeman at 14th and Levi Hendrickson of Arlee at 17th.

Chance Bernall graduated from Libby High School in 1999 and graduated from the University of Montana-Western at Dillion in 2004 with a degree in business and communications and computer technology.

He attended Western on a rodeo scholarship. He closed out his senior season with a second straight Big Sky Region calf roping title and was a reserve team roping heeler champion. He finished his senior year ninth in the national collegiate standings. He had four trips to the College National Finals Rodeo during his school years, two trips to the Northern Rodeo Association calf roping finals and two trips to the Montana Pro Circuit finals.

Bernall is a real estate sales associate for Best in the West Properties in Dillon.

Also, Texan Blake Goode brings his specialty act to Libby for the rodeo. Goode will Roman-ride his "Flying Ace" team of horses and white Brahma bulls, Geronimo and Apache.

With one foot on each animal's back, Goode will speed throughout the arena and jump through flaming hoops.

The rodeo clown this year is John Beck.