When Illinois Governor Pat Quinn put a halt on the National High School Finals Rodeo (NHSFR) in Springfield, Ill., the state’s rodeo-goers and participants erupted in protest. For Miss Rodeo Illinois, Brooke Owen, the governor’s veto was a major blow to the sport she loves so much.
“It’s really put a damper on [rodeo],” Owen said. “Illinois is supposed to host it. The same states each year host it.”
Illinois, Wyoming and New Mexico typically share the hosting responsibilities during alternate years. Springfield, Ill. was scheduled to hold the NHSFR this year, that is, until Gov. Quinn allowed the state’s department of agriculture to discontinue state funds for the event.
“It’s certainly not a reflection on the rodeo’s merit,” Illinois Agriculture Spokesman Jeff Squibb said to the Associated Press on Jan. 27, 2011. “It’s simply a reflection of the state’s fiscal situation.”
“It’s really hitting home with our state not having money,” Owen said. “Not being able to put on rodeos … it’s upset a lot of people.”
The cost of the NHSFR to the state is approximately $1 million, whereas the profits are estimated to hover around $8 million for locals of Springfield and the smaller towns surrounding it.
“Without high school rodeo and without junior rodeo and without bring people to the state … people won’t know it even exists in the state,” Owen said.
One of Owen’s primary roles as Miss Rodeo Illinois is to represent the sport of rodeo in her state. With the government shutting down events because of reportedly tough economic situations, many fear the sport will dwindle in the Prairie State.
“Illinois does rodeo,” Owen said.
It is a simply statement, but one Owen will not recant. A native of Mapleton, Ill, Owen has barrel raced “since she was born” and been in rodeo since the third grade.
“I like the competition, all my friends do it, it’s like a little community, or family,” Owen said.
She was the first runner up in two Miss Junior Rodeo contests. After high school, she re-entered the pageant world only to conquer the statewide contest for the highest title in Illinois.
Owen said the best part of being Miss Rodeo Illinois is being able “to really explain things and let people know and to let people be aware of all the horsemanship that goes into rodeo.” She said sharing her favorite sport with kids and their families is what truly makes her job enjoyable.
The support of her fellow Miss Rodeo America contenders helps to motivate her on the often-difficult road of rodeo.
“It is so wonderful to be able to have people that you can really talk to about what you’re going through, like being gone all the time, and they actually get it too,” Owen said. “… I feel like I have 30 older sisters to go to for things.”
The sisterhood of traveling crowns holds each other up through all kinds of setbacks. Owen’s dream of representing her state throughout the country came true, and won’t let a political or financial obstacle deter her from doing the job she loves to do.
“You just have to remember that there’s a little kid out there, there’s someone that wants to be in your shoes and isn’t,” Owen said. “To respect people that put you there, your family, and to really not take it for granted.”
No governor or government department will tell Brooke Owen whether she’ll promote rodeo in her state or not; she’s committed to fighting for the sport throughout her reign as Miss Rodeo Illinois.
“In reality, we only get to do this for one year,” Owen said. “It’s really a dream come true.”