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MTI rodeo team having successful season

Brooke Steckelberg juggles school, work and motherhood, all for rodeoing for Mitchell Technical Institute.

The Chamberlain native spent one year rodeoing for Black Hills State University and has spent the last two with MTI.

“The most difficult thing is trying to manage all my time,” Steckelberg said. “It takes a lot of time to go to school, work, then train my horses and make sure they are in shape. It is a lot of time, but it is rewarding in the end if you do well.”

As a member of the MTI rodeo team, Steckelberg competes in 10 rodeos a season in hopes of earning prize money and making it to the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo.

The MTI rodeo team competes in the Great Plains Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. The region includes schools from South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

The group routinely travels 700 to 800 miles in a weekend to compete in rodeos in the region and MTI helps pay for the team’s travel. Money earned from fundraisers, including the MTI rodeo banquet and parking cars at Dakotafest, helps pay for the team’s travel expenses.

Steckelberg competes in breakaway roping and barrel racing and said the entry fees for both events total close to $100. She added team members put up $40 for hotel stays and also have to pay for their own food.

“You have to be really dedicated,” she said. “It has to be something you live for, it has to be in your lifestyle. If it is something you are not dedicated to, it makes it hard for you to do it every week and not come home with any money.”

MTI sits in fourth place in the Great Plains Region men’s standings, while the women are in ninth place. To compete on the rodeo team, a student must pass at least 12 academic credit hours each semester and maintain a 2.0 grade point average. The program started 22 years ago and Jimmie Nicolaus has been at the helm since then.

This year’s team consists of 20 cowboys and cowgirls, who practice in various places.

“It was kind of nice in the beginning because it was just a couple of bull riders with gear bags,” Nicolaus said. “But we have started to grow. Now we have four pickups, four trailers and another van, so that we can all travel together. We travel as a group so that if someone has car trouble, we can help them out.”

This weekend, the rodeo team is competing in the Hastings College Rodeo in Hastings, Neb., with hopes of earning more points and qualifying for the College Finals Rodeo.

Kyle Hapney is the only MTI cowboy who sits atop the leaderboard in any event in the region. Hapney has amassed 950 points to lead the saddle bronc. Hapney broke his foot a few weeks ago, but is still fighting and continuing to compete in the event.

Four other MTI cowboys are also in the top 11 in the region in saddle bronc riding, including Jim O’Leary, Miles Kreeger, Jason Hapney and Tucker Whitney. Last year, Kyle Hapney won the title for the Great Plains Region and participated in the College National Finals Rodeo.

Second-year team member Blake Boysen also participated in the CNFN and is looking to make it back this year in steer wrestling. Boysen sits in fourth place in the region standings with 420 points.

“Last year was an awesome experience,” Boysen said. “The college finals is probably the closest thing you can get to the National Finals Rodeo. It is our Super Bowl so it was a once-in-a lifetime experience. We have a great rodeo team at Mitchell Tech this year. We all practice really hard and hopefully more of us make it to the college finals this year.”