Miss Rodeo Nebraska off and riding

Miss Rodeo Nebraska candidate Brooklyn Becker rides a pattern during the horsemanship competition at the Wild West Arena on Sunday morning. A barbecue followed the competition.

Whether or not Nebraska’s for everyone, speaking about it is part of Miss Rodeo Nebraska’s job description.

Riffs on the Cornhusker State’s latest tourism slogan figured prominently in the two-minute prepared talks during Monday night’s Miss Rodeo Nebraska and Miss Teen Rodeo Nebraska speech competitions at the North Platte Community Playhouse.

“It made me, a ‘Go Big Red or go home’ Nebraskan, wonder, ‘What is Nebraska for, then?’” said Joeli Walrath of Ashton, who hopes along with Brooklyn Becker of Beaver City to succeed current Miss Rodeo Nebraska Eva Oliver in January.

Walrath answered her question by focusing on Nebraska’s products, attractions and people — the subject she, Becker and the three younger Miss Teen Rodeo Nebraska contestants would be expected to speak about regularly if they win.

Nebraskans are “genuinely and truly amazing people,” Becker said when her turn came. “All the while, they want to share their experiences about how they live in this great state.”

The five young women, who began pageant week with Sunday morning horsemanship contests at the Wild West Arena, also gave extemporaneous 30-second commercials for businesses that donated products for today’s 7 p.m. scholarship fundraising auction at the playhouse.

The auction will lead off the annual Miss Rodeo Nebraska style show, which also will include on-stage personal interviews to wrap up the competitive part of the week.

Miss Teen Rodeo Nebraska 2020 will be crowned at the playhouse at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday. Either Becker or Walrath will become Miss Rodeo Nebraska Lady-in-Waiting — her title until Oliver finishes her reign — at intermission of Wednesday night’s Buffalo Bill Rodeo.

Nebraska’s most recent Miss Rodeo America, 2003 titleholder Lori (Bortner) Harding of McCook, emceed Monday night with help from Oliver, reigning Miss Teen Rodeo Nebraska Rebel Sjeklocha and Miss Rodeo America 2019 Taylor McNair of Mississippi.

Harding, who was crowned Miss Rodeo Nebraska in North Platte in 2002, stressed the importance of speaking well as they promote “the Western way of life and the state of Nebraska.”

Her experiences helped finance her education and start a professional career before she paused it to raise a family, said Harding, who is expecting her fifth child.

“But the skills I learned (in rodeo pageants) are still useful today — especially the patience,” Harding said. “The patience is key.”

All five contestants offered familiar but unique combinations of Nebraska facts — landmarks like Chimney Rock, high rankings in crop and livestock sales, celebrities like Tom Osborne and Scott Frost and events like Nebraskaland Days.

But most highlighted varying aspects of Nebraskans’ resiliency and selfless cooperation in the aftermath of March’s “bomb cyclone,” with its heartbreaking cattle losses on ranches and flood-driven sands across farm fields.

Nebraska is a state “for the rancher who helplessly opens his gates for his livelihood, his cattle, to escape the rushing floodwaters,” said Miss Teen Rodeo Nebraska candidate Sierra Cain of North Platte.

“The people of Nebraska have always been close, but this drew us closer together,” said fellow competitor Amber Gonzales of McCook.

Hershey’s Brylee Thompson, the third teen candidate, cast her home state as “someone very special I would like to introduce. ... Friends old and new are always welcome to visit her.”

Monday night’s program ended with presentations of this year’s Friends of the Miss Rodeo Nebraska Association Awards for faithful support of the group and its pageant.

MRNA President Sally Haythorn of Arthur emceed as Oliver and Sjeklocha presented awards to Larry Stobbs, Bill and Sharon Negley and Blaine and Sharlene Rodewald. Stobbs, who was absent, was represented by his wife, Paula.

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