ROCK SPRINGS — The time has arrived.

National High School Finals Rodeo contestants began checking in as Thursday marked the first day they could report.

Jessie Ferguson, 2019 Miss Alberta High School Rodeo Queen, was officially the first to show up to the Sweetwater Events Complex’ Grandstands parking lot with her 8-year-old Quarter Horse named J.D. Whiskey Jack, after a 16-hour drive from Taber, Alberta, Canada. She arrived at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

The incoming high school junior will be competing at her first nationals, but the trip comes just after her mom Danna Ferguson went through surgery to address a bowel issue.

Jessie’s mom being here with her is “super important” and the event allows the family to spend time together, Jessie said.

The rodeo queen contestant said she looks forward “to meeting a bunch of great girls and hopefully come out with a national title.”

NORTH FROM ALASKA

Kathleen Kitson, National High School Rodeo Association national director from Alaska, said the state squad arrived on Tuesday. They stopped in Seattle before flying to Salt Lake City and driving to Rock Springs where they rented and rode horses to prepare for the competition.

Two team members, Tori Kitson and Breanna Butchart spoke to the Rocket-Miner.

Butchart, 2019 Miss Alaska High School Rodeo, said she is in her first nationals.

“I’m super excited and I can’t wait to compete,” she said. “I look forward to meeting all the queens.”

Butchart added she does not expect to forget her queen speech.

As for Tori Kitson, she is a three-time NHSFR qualifier. A challenge she faces is having to ride on horses she never rode before. She added that she has learned from past nationals to spend more time on the horses she will ride and “be loose and have fun.”

She hopes to not only enjoy herself, but to do the best she can while scoping colleges in the area.

ANOTHER SHOT AT NATIONALS

Katelyn Bookman is back. She appeared at two national high school finals rodeos, but missed the top-four cut in 2018.

This year, she kept saying she was going to make it to nationals, her mom Bonnie Bookman said.

Katelyn, from Negley, Ohio, will be competing in goat tying.

“I will definitely give it my all,” Bookman said. “It’s nationals, I might as well put it all in.”

Bookman’s dad, Gary Bookman, said making it back to the NHSFR is a great accomplishment.

For high school kids, competing at nationals benefits them for the rest of their lives, he said.

2019 Miss South Carolina High School Rodeo Association Queen Sarah Coleman from Gaffney, SC, is also back. She said she learned from a year ago that no matter what happens, “to keep your head high and there’s always next year.”

Aurora Jensen from Carrsville, Virginia, is another contestant making a return trip to Rock Springs.

She said she looks forward to being back at the Sweetwater Events Complex.

“It’s a great complex,” Jensen said. “I think it’s well suited to accommodate for the horses and they really care about the livestock.”

Jensen will compete in breakaway roping and barrel racing. She said she fell from her horse during an event a year ago, but then got back on and had an excellent ride.

It’s always about coming back and doing your best, Jensen said.

For many of the athletes, it’s all about doing their best.

“I don’t really have expectations,” 2019 Miss Nevada High School Rodeo Queen Jessica Benz said. “This is what I live for and what I love. I’ll do the best I can and that’s all I ask.”

Contestants have until 7 a.m. Sunday to check-in.

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