Local cowboy keeps coming back

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— Mitch Walz was an unassuming hero at Friday night's portion of the Steamboat Springs Pro Rodeo series. Saturday night he realized he was an unappreciated one, as well.

Things weren't going great early on Friday, the first day of the weekend's two-day rodeo. A healthy crop of six bareback riders opened the event, but only two were rewarded with high scores, and only one cowboy succumbed to the bucking beasts from Southwick's Rocky Mountain Rodeo Company.

Little appeared different as competitors saddled up for the night's second event. Only one of the first four team roping pairs managed to rope a calf, and even then the heeler was only able to snag one of the calf's legs, resulting in a mandatory five second penalty in an event where six seconds usually is good enough to get into the money.

Then Walz rode up, competing with teammate Jason Watts. Both cowboys hail from Craig, and both brought a little light to Steamboat rodeo, quickly snaring their calf and jumping into the lead with a time of 6.5 seconds.

"I hope that holds up. I don't know," Walz said uneasily moments afterward, quickly preparing for his next event.

He couldn't see the rodeo arena as he switched gear in preparation for his turn at saddle bronc riding. There was no mistaking the roar from the crowd when the very next team shattered the Craig pair's time, however.

In the end, Walz and Watts were left 0.4 seconds out of the money, Saturday competitors Travis Bounds and Seth Brockman winning the event and it's $760 purse.

Walz is a longtime veteran of rodeo but grew tired of the long summers on the road and has been competing in Steamboat more and more during the years.

He's had plenty of success in the Steamboat series, winning the Pat Mantle award three times and the saddle bronc season championship twice.

"I used to travel all over, but any more I just stay close to home," said Walz, a farrier in Craig when he's not roping and riding. "The Steamboat rodeo is really a good one, and it's close. I've always been lucky here, too."

He again offered his services to the Friday night rodeo when his turn came up in saddle bronc riding. The first three competitors flew from their horses long before the eight-second buzzer sounded. Walz nailed it, however, hanging on his bronco, Wild Freckles, with plenty of time to spare and earning 70 points for the effort.

And yet again, the very next rider - the only Friday competitor other than Walz to successfully make it through eight seconds - shattered his score.

Walz was left out of the prize money in saddle bronc riding, too, with Brandon Munn of Wheatland, Wyo., taking home the $775.20 prize for his 75-point ride on Gremlin.

Walz wasn't sweating the situation afterward. The weekend's rodeo, the second in the series of 10 set for this summer in Steamboat, paid out $17,330.25. Despite earning loud ovations for both his performances, Walz didn't win a dime of the money.

He said the money he wins at rodeos usually is just a nice bonus. Plus, he's well aware there's plenty of summer remaining.

"This was my first one this summer, so it was all right," he said. "I like coming out here. It's a good way to make $500 or $600 sometimes."

- To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 871-4253 or e-mail jreichenberger@steamboatpilot.com

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