By Pat Caldwell
VALE – Craig Evins says his dad would be surprised and a little humbled that every June local calf ropers and barrel racers converge on the Vale rodeo grounds to compete in an event in his honor.
“He would love it. He loved rodeo,” said Evins.
Since 1986, the Billy Evins Memorial Team Roping event has captured the interest and participation of local rodeo enthusiasts who vie for a chance to compete in the Vale Fourth of July Rodeo.
The Billy Evins event, sponsored by the Vale Fourth of July Rodeo Board, will be at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 22, and Friday, June 23, at the Vale Rodeo grounds and features team roping and barrel racing competition.
“A lot of people show up for it and there are a lot of families involved, fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and we get people from Jordan Valley and Juntura but most are local Vale people,” said Jim Mendiola, rodeo board president.
The first day is practice open to anyone, Evins said. The qualifying round for the Fourth of July Rodeo is the next day and is open only to Malheur County residents, landowners or anyone who graduated from a Malheur County high school.
Barrel racing participants compete in five age groups: 6-8; 9-10; 11-13; 14-18 and an open category. The top finishers in each age group go on to compete at the Vale Fourth of July Rodeo.
At one time the competitive portion was open to anyone, Mendiola said.
“We had to cut back on the entries so we could do it in one day,” said Mendiola. “We started to get a lot of guys that were rodeo contestants and we wanted to move it back to a more family deal.”
In the team roping competition, each team draws three steers. Members of the top 24 roping teams qualify to rope in the Vale Fourth of July rodeo.
The entry fee for barrel racers is $10 and $25 for team ropers. Admission to watch is free.
Barrel racing and team roping winners from the Billy Evins event then perform in a portion of the rodeo that isn’t sanctioned by the Northwest Professional Rodeo Association.
Giving local contestants a chance to compete in the rodeo was one of the chief reasons the event began, Evins said.
“We were getting so many local entries that wanted to rope in the rodeo and it was kind of a first come, first served basis. That made people angry. So, this was a way to make a qualifier because we just had so many people that wanted to rope,” Evins said.
Evins said his dad was a popular man – more than 1,000 people attended his funeral after he lost his battle with cancer in 1984 – and rodeo was in his blood. Craig Evins got his first taste of the arena when he was a boy.
“I can remember going all over to rodeo — Homedale, Burns, the Big Loop in Jordan Valley. It was awesome,” he said.
“It was my job to warm up the horse and I was just this little kid. My feet didn’t even fit into the stirrups but it that was my job,” Evins said.
The Billy Evins is a big deal, Mendiola said.
“It is right up there next to the Fourth of July rodeo and is almost as important,” said Mendiola.
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