Well, it happened again. I don’t know why I get surprised at all. After all, I am a fan first, reporter second. That breaks one of the top journalism rules, but I don’t hide it. In the middle of interviews and reporting I forget to do just that: interview and report.

But c’mon, when you’re sitting with a bunch of ropers and families and the conversation goes from roping strategy to, “That one time when we were hunting in the middle of nowhere New Mexico,” you find yourself just listening and most likely laughing. When talk turns from rodeo schedules to scheduling your fantasy football draft around slack, you start with strategy and end with a bit of trash talk.

Whatever the reason (OK, excuse), let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is a great week of rodeo coming up.

First things first, Wednesday’s steer roping slack, but the mid-week marquee event must be Wednesday afternoon’s 17th annual Best of the Best Open Roping at the WestStar Ranch.

By my very unofficial count The Repp family has doled out around $2 million in winnings and prizes to the winners and placers at their event year after year. We’ve seen Ellensburg’s Minor brothers win, we celebrated a huge win by seven-time world champion Clay O’Brien Cooper (roping with Logan Olson) last year. I remember watching Trevor Brazile miss his steer to win it many years ago and remember interviewing an ecstatic Wade Wheatley listening to him describe the winning payday as keeping him on the road. Whether you’re on top of the world standings or struggling mightily between paydays, it’s always a good time to win $10,000.

This year, each winner will win 20-grand as the fees and added money grew.

Despite higher fees, no one blinked an eye.

“It doesn’t matter, we were going to come here no matter what,” Travis Graves told me on Monday night. “Us Open ropers are used to paying pretty high fees. It’s just part of the game that we play.”

Fellow heeler Jake Long echoed that sentiment.

“We’re used to higher fees. I don’t think anybody batted an eye. Really it just makes the rodeo better for us. Some producers might raise fees and take a little more for themselves, but the Repps did it right. They raised the fees, but all they did was make it better for us.”

Better includes inviting ropers to making WestStar home for a week or two, or even longer.

“It’s awesome to have a place to stay for a couple of days, then you go around to the rodeos and then come back here,” fourth-ranked heeler Junior Nogueira said Monday. “This is my fifth or sixth year here and I’m thankful I’ve gotten to know Mr. Scott and Ms. Jo. Thankful for everything they do, not even just for us but for everybody.

“It’s amazing roping. To have all this money, it brings even more attention to this roping. We’re very thankful for the Repps for the roping and for letting us stay here. It’s huge money. Very important.”

Header Erich Rogers said the money at WestStar comes at a time in the season where horses are sore and ropers are tired, homesick and maybe short on cash.

“That’s a lot of money up there this year,” he said last week. “They’ve done such an outstanding job for us. Those checks like the WestStar around this time really help a roper.”

Wednesday acts as a literal kickoff to the week. Beyond WestStar’s roping, steer roping slack begins at 7 a.m. at the Ellensburg Rodeo arena Wednesday morning. Thursday’s slack also begins at 7 a.m., while Friday’s slack begins at 9 a.m. The first performance is Friday night at 6:45.

I’m going to be tipping my hat to the Ellensburg Rodeo often this week, but you really must give a much-deserved standing ovation to the Repp family.

“It’s just an amazing place,” Ryan Motes said a couple of weeks ago. “A lot of times we’re up here almost a month away from the house, so it’s nice to have somewhere good to hang out and they’re like family.”

Jon Guddat covers rodeo — from the kids to the kids at heart — with a weekly rodeo column in the Daily Record. Contact Jon with story ideas at jonguddat@yahoo.com.

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