Each one of them was asked about the importance of western heritage and preserving, in essence, the way of life of those who grew up in the saddle, during the impromptu question portion of Saturday night’s 2020 Ellensburg Rodeo Royalty Coronation at the Student Union Ballroom at Central Washington University.

Five young women were hoping with their heart of hearts to say the right words to define those values and sway a five-member judging panel. But at the end of the day they did far more than that. They showed a capacity audience at the SURC what Western Heritage is all about — winning with honor and losing with dignity.

This year’s participants Jordan Arlt (age 21), Ellie Dyk (17), Abbey Roberts (17), Cora Clift (17) and Clara Van Orman (22) shared the honor of walking under the gauntlet of raised hats by the Ellensburg Rodeo Posse, participating in the riding challenges, giving speeches and answering impromptu questions.

But when it came time to announce the 2020 queen and her princesses, the young women, who all grew up running around the Royal Court Coronation asking for the autographs they were now signing, who came through the Ellensburg school system, rode in similar equestrian circles, joined hands at the table they were sitting at in the front of a capacity room.

It was more than just a show of support, it was an action of how things are done out west where a handshake means something. It showed the Ellensburg Rodeo is once again well represented by its ambassadors in the saddle.

Emcee and longtime rodeo writer Jon Guddat paused for dramatic affect before announcing Princess Abbey Roberts, the 17-year daughter of Candice Tipton and Justin Roberts. Even though her heart seemed like it was pounding through her chest, she walked with purpose, with dignity and grace. To two-step across the stage to the podium in excitement would be like dancing on someone else’s dream, and that’s not how it’s done out west.

Next was the announcement of Princess Clara Van Orman, the 22-year-old daughter of Rod and Caron Van Orman. The oldest of the five participants, Van Orman is completing her second year of nursing school at Washington State University. She glided across the stage and accepted her crown, standing with her fellow princess Roberts waiting for the grand announcement as to who would wear the 2020 queen crown.

And finally, Guddat made it official, ringing in 17-year-old Ellensburg High School junior Cora Clift, the daughter of Kerry and Brigid Clift, as the queen who represent the Ellensburg Rodeo throughout the 2020 rodeo season and events and civic engagements across the Pacific Northwest.

All five benefited from their participation with increased confidence, performance in front of a panel of judges or just the pursuit of a dream. But that moment where they held hands as a show of support meant all five could walk the walk within their Western heritage.

“It was really nerve-wracking, but we all wanted to support each other and holding hands helped, I thought,” said Clift, who’s family raises purebred Charolais cattle. “When it came down the just the three of us sitting there, I just decided even if I don’t get it, I’ll go and rodeo even more — life goes on.

“When they did announce me, I don’t even remember half of it. It was just a whirlwind of emotion and excitement. It was so much fun.”

It’s more than just a dream for the Ellensburg senior Roberts, who’s already taking Running Start classes at Central Washington University and is a rodeo contestant in her own right.

“I pray to God a lot and that’s what I was doing as we held hands before the announcement,” said Roberts, who is also involved in FFA, 4-H and the high school associated student body. “I just asked if this was the door I was supposed to go through and if not, I believe, there would there be another door opening for me down the road.

“My family is so deep-rooted here, going back almost 90 years in the Ellensburg Rodeo. It’s exciting because I really do have an appreciation for the sport of rodeo and the western way of life.”

Van Orman looked around the ballroom as friends and family came up to congratulate the Royal Court as a collective whole, remembering a time when she was one of the shy little girls running around with a pen and program asking for autographs from those representing one of the greatest rodeos in the country. Her thoughts were private, her smile genuine and she was ready to embark on the journey she’d been waiting for for a long, long time.

“I had so many emotions going through my head before the announcement. I thought holding hands was special,” said Van Orman. “It really is a dream come true and its something that means so much, because we’ve all worked so hard. There is a sigh of relief, but there’s a lot of work to be done and I’m looking forward to it.”

Outgoing 2019 Queen Julia Wickerath, who along with her princesses Gracie Loen and Emilee Myers, was inducted into the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame during the course of the night, had a bit of advice before she rode off into the sunset.

“The community support is going to be amazing,” said Wickerath, who is a 2015 Ellensburg graduate currently studying civil engineering and minoring in equine science at the University of Wyoming. “I would say, enjoy it while you can because it’s going to be an incredible journey with the travel and exposure to different experiences across the Pacific Northwest.”

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