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Shawn Perkins

Shawn Perkins of Roberts leads the Northern Rodeo Association 2016 bareback standings. The NRA and Northern Women's Rodeo Association Finals begin Thursday in Butte.

Courtesy photo

Shawn Perkins admits he doesn’t have many life experiences.

And at just 17 years old, he shouldn’t. Perkins is still too young to vote, shaving is optional and high school graduation remains eight months away.

But there is a place where Perkins is wise beyond his years.

The rodeo arena.

The Roberts cowboy leads the bareback standings heading into the Northern Rodeo Association Finals this weekend at the Butte Civic Center.

The NRA Finals are Thursday, Friday and Saturday. It features the top 10 in each event and will determine the 2016 year-end champions. There are also finals for the junior events.

Perkins is one of four current high school age competitors leading events. The others are Dillon Hahnkamp of Melrose (tie-down roping), Choteau’s Shelby Rasmussen (barrel racing, all-around cowgirl) and Kal Fuller of Bozeman (team roping headers, all-around cowboy).

The likable Perkins is a bit surprised to see his name atop the standings.

“I didn’t plan on doing this well,” he said. “I just wanted to win the rookie title. I kept going, drawing well and doing good.

“I’ve been working hard to get ready (for the Finals) … hitting the weight room at school. I’ll try to ride better than ever and win it.”

Perkins rode pretty well during the summer.

He placed at 14 rodeos, winning at Ennis, Scobey, Superior and Twin Bridges. His $5,430 won is the second-most for a rookie in an individual event.

“I ride better when I don’t have any expectations,” Perkins said. “When I do have expectations, I don’t ride well. It’s better when it’s a mystery for me. Then I do better.”

Perkins also placed second Harlowton, East Helena, Butte, Townsend, Boulder and Wibaux.

The two-time Montana high school state champion picked up momentum as the summer went along.

“I heard about the NRA from all my friends,” said Perkins. “I knew it was a good place to get started. It’s the next step in the progression: high school, NRA, college and PRCA. I figured I would jump into it and things just started clicking for me.”

Perkins acknowledged he had a few nerves at his first NRA rodeo in Wilsall. He missed a couple of early- season NRA rodeos because of the Montana High School Finals Rodeo in Baker.

“I was kind of nervous,” he admitted of his first NRA ride. “I thought most of the people were better than me. You’ve got guys riding in both the NRA and the Montana Pro Circuit. After a couple of rodeos, I knew I could ride at that level. It motivates you to do better.”

Perkins, who finished fifth at the National High School Rodeo Finals in Rock Springs, Wyo., takes a tenuous lead of just $137 over good friend and traveling partner Troy Kirkpatrick of Wise River.

“Troy is one of the first friends I made in rodeo,” said Perkins. “We traveled together all summer. We’re pretty good friends.”

They also shared the driving with Charles Lytle of Arlee who is second in the saddle bronc standings.

“It’s a lot more fun to travel when you’re winning,” Perkins added.

That was evident during the Fourth of July run. Starting his trip in Roberts, Perkins competed at an open rodeo in Lincoln on July 2, rode at Harlowton on July 3 and finished with rodeos in Choteau and Ennis on July 4.

He won Ennis, was second at Harlowton and fourth at Choteau for $1,630, almost one-third of his NRA season earnings.

“I’ve learned a lot about the sport, I learned the money side,” Perkins said of his rodeo education this summer. “I’m looking forward to the Finals. It should be fun.”