Fugere gets his shot against the greats
56th annual Champions Ride Saddle Bronc Match
At Home on the Range near Sentinel Butte (Interstate 94 Exit 7)
Tickets: $40 family, $15 adult, $7 students
Proceeds benefit Home on the Range and raise money and awareness for troubled, neglected, abused and disadvantaged boys and girls.
Cody Wright. Taos Muncy. J.J. Elshere. Ian Fugere.
The first three are names most rodeo fans know. The latter is about to find out how he measures up against them.
Fugere, a 19-year-old saddle bronc rider from Belfield, gets the opportunity of a lifetime today when he competes in the 56th annual Champions Ride Saddle Bronc Match at Home on the Range near Sentinel Butte.
It's an event Fugere is calling his "decision maker."
"This rodeo is kind of a big deal for me," he said. "It's going to make me decide if I might go pro next summer. I'm not sure. I'm going to go ride with some of the best and see what I get out of it."
Fugere definitely has his work cut out for him. The invitation-only Champions Ride is not an event for greenhorns.
It generally draws the cream of the world's saddle bronc riding crop. World champions and cowboys with National Finals Rodeo experience dominant the field.
Six-time world champion Dan Mortensen won it three times. Four-time world champ and event organizer Brad Gjermundson won the event twice. Last year, Wright -- a two-time world champion -- won it for the third time in six years.
There are exceptions to the rule though.
Circuit cowboys Jeremy Crane and James Irish took the title in 2005 and 2009, respectively.
Fugere hopes he can be one of those guys, the no-name rider who beats the world's best.
However, he is even further behind the curve because he has only been to two rodeos this summer.
After a standout freshman season at Miles Community College in Miles City, Mont., Fugere has spent his summer working as a drilling rig floorhand for Helmerich & Payne. The rig he's on now is in northwest North Dakota, deep inside the Bakken.
"That's all I've been able to do out of it, is work and play every little chance I get," he said, before laughing. "But I haven't had very many chances. ... I kind of trusted myself to hopefully not forget how to ride and just work this summer."
It's difficult work, he said, and it cost him a trip to the College National Finals Rodeo in June. But, the paycheck he receives makes up for it, Fugere said.
Despite earning hefty wages most 19-year-olds could only dream of, Fugere said he likely doesn't have a future in the oil business.
"Never in 1,000 years will I work for somebody else my whole life and make them millions of dollars," Fugere said.
His real dream, once he's hung up his rodeo spurs, is to become a rancher alongside his father, Kevin.
"The more I'm away from home and not getting to ranch and move cattle, the more I miss it," Fugere said.
Gjermundson said it wasn't a difficult choice to invite Fugere, a four-time National High School Finals Rodeo qualifier and 2010 North Dakota High School Rodeo Association state champion.
"The thing about Ian is he's rode enough now. He's moving up in the rodeo ranks," said Gjermundson, who is charge of procuring bronc riders for the Champions Ride.
"To invite a high school bronc rider to this, it's not very good because it's more than what they've been used to. But Ian has been to enough good rodeos and been on enough good horses that if he draws good here -- and there's a lot of good horses here -- if he rides as good as he draws, he'll be in good shape."
Fugere doesn't know what today has in store for him. But, he's more than willing to find out.
"I'm so pumped about it, I'm trying to keep myself out of the head game," he said with a laugh. "Those horses are going to be top notch. I can't wait."
Champions Ride winners
2011 - Cody Wright, Milford, Utah
2010 - Wade Sundell, Boxholm, Iowa
2009 - James Irish, Lewistown, Mont.
2008 - Cody Wright, Milford, Utah
2007 - J.J. Elshere, Quinn, S.D.
2006 - Cody Wright, Milford, Utah
2005 - Jeremy Crane, Baldwin, N.D.
2004 - Jesse Bail, Camp Crook, S.D.
2003 - Dan Mortensen, Dillon, Mont.
2002 - Tom Reeves, Stephenville, Texas
2001 - Todd Hipsag, Firth, Neb.
2000 - Glen O'Neill, Water Valley, Alberta
1999 - Glen O'Neill, Water Valley, Alberta, and Rod Hay, Wildwood, Alberta
1998 - Jeremy Crane, Bismarck, N.D.
1997 - Rod Hay, Wildwood, Alberta
1996 - Dan Mortsensen, Manhattan, Mont.
1995 - Rod Hay, Wildwood, Alberta
1994 - Craig Latham, Goodwell, Okla.
1993 - Brad Gjermundson, Marshall, N.D.
1992 - Paul Peterson, Edmund, Okla.
1991 - Ty Murray, Stephenville, Texas
1990 - Dan Mortensen, Billings, Mont.
1989 - Robert Etbauer, Goodwell, Okla.
1988 - Brad Gjermundson, Marshall, N.D.
1987 - Marty Jandreau, Kinnebeck, S.D., and Tom Reeves, Eagle Butte, S.D.
1986 - Lewis Field, Elk Ridge, Utah
1985 - Harry Rose Jr., Clovis, Calif.
1984 - Rockie Kukla, Killdeer, N.D.
1983 - Chuck Fratzke, Watford City, N.D.
1982 - Butch Small, Dubois, Idaho
1981 - Rockie Kukla, Killdeer, N.D.
1980 - Bud Pauley, Miles City, Mont.
1979 - Bud Pauley, Miles City, Mont.
1978 - Bill Pauley, Miles City, Mont.
1977 - J.C. Bonine, Hysham, Mont.
1976 - John McBeth, Burden, Kan.
1975 - Bill Pauley, Miles City, Mont.
1974 - Wally Badgett, Kinsey, Mont.
1973 - Hugh Chambliss, Albuquerque, N.M.
1972 - Bill Pauley, Miles City, Mont.
1971 - Jim Tescher, Sentinel Butte, N.D.
1970 - Ralph Maynard, Eagle Butte, S.D.
1969 - Larry Mahan, Salem, Ore.
1968 - Bill Smith, Cody, Wyo.
1967 - Hugh Chambliss, Albuquerque, N.M.
1966 - Jim Tescher, Sentinel Butte, N.D.
1965 - Jim Tescher, Sentinel Butte, N.D.
1964 - Shawn Davis, Whitehall, Mont.
1963 - Jim Tescher, Sentinel Butte, N.D.
1962 - Shawn Davis, Whitehall, Mont.
1961 - Benny Reynolds, Melrose, Mont., and Pete Fredericks, Halliday, N.D.
1960 - Marty Wood, Bowness, Alberta
1959 - Duane Howard, Minnewaukan, N.D.
1958 - George Menkenmaier, Burn, Ore.
1957 - Alvin Nelson, Grassy Butte