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Miss Rodeo Wyoming pageant hopes to attract contestants through skills learned by competing

Four rodeo queens stand together.
Miss Rodeo Wyoming Facebook
Miss Historic Jackson Hole Rodeo Jordan Lutz (far left), Miss Rodeo Wyoming 2022 Madelaine McElwee (middle left), Miss Laramie Jubilee Days Alexis Wheeler (middle right), Miss Sheridan WYO Rodeo & Miss Rodeo Wyoming 2023 Reata Cook (far right).

The Miss Rodeo Wyoming pageant crowned its 2023 winner on August 18 to represent the state's rodeo scene at events across the state and on the national stage. The annual event has been a staple of the Wyoming State Fair for years, and for many, celebrates and represents the sport of rodeo and the Western way of life.

The first Miss Rodeo Wyoming, Marilyn Scott Freimark of Cheyenne, was also the first winner of the Miss Rodeo America pageant, which was held in Casper in 1955. Since then, three other Wyomingites have achieved the title.

Three contestants competed for the title this year.

"I rodeoed when I was younger, and it's just an opportunity to really show what Wyoming is and who our community is and represents," said Reata Cook, 21, Miss Sheridan WYO Rodeo.

Cook and the others began preparing for this competition a long time ago, like Crystal Myers who held the title in 2007. Now Myers is the National Director for the pageant. She understands the preparation and effort that goes into competing for the title.

"I mean, most of them have been preparing for over a year for this pageant, and so the rodeo knowledge they have to know, the horsemanship they have to know, current events, public speaking, they have to give an impromptu speech that they have 10 minutes to prepare for," she said.

Myers added that they ultimately are looking for a title holder that will represent the state well, which includes competing for the Miss Rodeo America title in Las Vegas. But she said that things have changed over the years, which led to a decline in the number of women competing.

"In the 90s and early 2000s, we would have seven, eight, nine contestants," she explained. "It has declined a little bit, well, quite a bit, and now we go between three and probably six contestants. We did have one year where we only had one contestant."

She added that they've discussed why this is and what they feel can be done to promote the pageant and its benefits to young women. Emphasizing life skills, such as public speaking and building self-confidence, are just two of the aspects they're trying to convey to prospective contestants.

"There's not as many people who are involved in that western lifestyle, so we're really trying to promote what these contestants and young ladies can get out of being Miss Rodeo Wyoming," Myers said.

But this year's contestants understood that there's something bigger than themselves in competing for the Miss Rodeo Wyoming title.

"Ever since I was little, I've always wanted to support rodeo and be the person to help it out and inform people about the sport," said Jordan Lutz, 21, who grew up in Jackson.

Competing in rodeos and showing horses at the state fair in addition to holding several rodeo royalty titles beginning at the age of eight are some of her previous experiences with rodeo and agriculture, though she said she's a first-generation cowgirl. She most recently held the title of Miss Historic Jackson Hole Rodeo before deciding to go for the Miss Rodeo Wyoming title.

"I grew up with Desiree Bridges, who was Miss Rodeo Wyoming 2014, and so she was a big role model in my life, and so I always looked up to her. And when she won, I was like 'That's where I want to be when I'm about her age,'" she added.

Alexis Wheeler, 20, is from Laramie and was crowned Miss Laramie Jubilee on New Year's Eve of last year.

"As I was doing my Laramie Jubilee Day stuff, I was just meeting all these state queens and I thought it'd be an amazing experience to try out for a state queen title," she explained. "Even if I didn't get it, it would be a great experience at the pageant."

After a long day of competition, the three hopefuls waited to see which one of them would be crowned.

Miss Rodeo Wyoming 2022 crowns the new Miss Rodeo Wyoming.
Miss Rodeo Wyoming Facebook
Miss Rodeo Wyoming 2022 Madelaine McElwee crowns Miss Sheridan WYO Rodeo Reata Cook after she was announced as Miss Rodeo Wyoming 2023.

"And now for the moment of suspense we've all been waiting for," said public address announcer and former Miss Rodeo Wyoming 1994 Laurie Thoman for the event. "I present to you the young lady who will reign over Miss Rodeo Wyoming for 2023. Please help me welcome Miss Reata Cook, Sheridan WYO Rodeo queen."

A grandstand full of spectators cheered and applauded for Cook.

"I was very surprised," Cook said. "I think me and Alexis and Jordan were very, very close. We were all great competitors, and everything that I got to see, of course, personal interviews I didn't get to see, but all of us are excelling in our horsemanship, our speaking, our personality, and our appearance. And I was truly surprised when I won. I couldn't have done it without those two girls challenging me, pushing me this whole week."

Cook will eventually go on to compete for Miss Rodeo America in late 2023. The 2022 title holder, Madelaine McElwee, will represent the state on the national level later this year, which will be held from Nov. 27- Dec. 4 in conjunction with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. The last Miss Rodeo Wyoming to win that title was in 1994.

Correction

Aug. 29, 2022

This story originally stated that Cook would compete at the national level this year. The 2022 title holder, Madelaine McElwee, will represent Wyoming on a national level later this year. Cook will compete in late 2023.

Hugh Cook is Wyoming Public Radio's Northeast Reporter, based in Gillette. A fourth-generation Northeast Wyoming native, Hugh joined Wyoming Public Media in October 2021 after studying and working abroad and in Washington, D.C. for the late Senator Mike Enzi.
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