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Exceptional choice: Blankenship thought about not competing to winning a championship

Press Photo by Royal McGregor Killdeer's Riley Blankenship competes in bull riding during the Dickinson High School Rodeo on May 27 at the Dickinson State University Outdoor Arena. Blankenship, who didn't plan on competing in high school rodeo this season, finished as the bull riding champion in the North Dakota High School Finals Rodeo.

Before the start of the North Dakota High School rodeo season, Killdeer's Riley Blankenship had thoughts about not competing at all.

He was going to focus on making money at professional bull riding events.

All it took was a little push from Dunn Center's Jake Benson for Blankenship to commit to the high school rodeo season.

"(Riley) wasn't planning on doing high school rodeo this year, because he was going to do bigger rodeos," Benson said. "I told him that he should go out this year, because we have a pretty good chance of making it to nationals together. It ended up working."

Blankenship is sure glad he took Benson's advice. The Killdeer cowboy ended the season as the North Dakota High School Finals Rodeo bull riding champion.

However, Blankenship's journey is far from over. His sights are now set on a bigger prize -- the National High School Finals Rodeo bull riding championship. The NHSFR begins Sunday in Rock Springs, Wyo.

"I'm pretty excited and I think I have a good chance to win it," Blankenship said. "I'm not really nervous, because I've been to a lot of professional rodeos. The big lights don't really bother me."

As for Blankenship's professional rodeo season thus far, he's ranked No. 19 in the Badlands Circuit standings with $701.

During the high school rodeo season, Blankenship didn't score any points until the West Fargo Rodeo on April 28. He finished runner-up on the opening day with 70 points and followed up the second day with a first-place ride of 72 points. Blankenship ended the season with 66 event points for North Dakota's top spot.

"My buddy Jake kind of got me to rodeo in the spring," Blankenship said. "Once I went at it, I knew that I could win it and I did."

Though he knows the bull riding championship isn't going to come easy, the Killdeer cowboy is facing the top high school competitors from around the country. For right now, Blankenship is going to take it eight seconds at a time.

"It's nothing personal," Blankenship said. "We have one job and that's to win. We can't control anything besides what we do. It doesn't really bother us on who was winning or who was doing better. You just kind of do your own thing."

One competitor Blankenship has helping him out along each step is Benson, who will be making his third finals appearance.

Benson knows what to expect, but he said it will be nice to have Blankenship there to watch every ride. Blankenship and Benson ride against each in every rodeo.

"It helps when I have him there, because he knows what's going on," Benson said. "When I get bucked off, he knows what I did wrong and he tells me. He can correct it for me. If he ever gets bucked off, I usually help correct it for him."

The Dunn Center cowboy was happy to make his third finals appearance, but he felt there was room for improvement at the end of the season. Benson ended with 29 event points for fourth place in North Dakota.

"The season went pretty decent," Benson said. "It could have turned a little bit better on the placing, but it's no big deal. I made it to nationals, so that's a plus."