BUTTE – Payton Fitzpatrick jumped off his bull shortly after the 8-second buzzer sounded.
He took off his hat and threw it across toward a corner of the Butte Civic Center.
Moments later he was in tears.
It wasn’t the best score Fitzpatrick has ever recorded on while riding on the back of a bull but it was perhaps the most memorable.
The last night of the Northern Rodeo Association’s Finals Rodeo saw Fitzpatrick’s earn 80 points for his ride aboard Bucking Nightmare. The points secured his spot as the second-best bull rider of the season, behind Dillon cowboy Loncey Johnson.
As Fitzpatrick entered the final weekend of the season, however, his mind wasn’t on the bull-riding standings. It was on his brother, Grey.
“My brother, he was supposed to be here riding but he got Meningitis,” Payton said after Saturday night’s even drew to a close. “A week ago, it wasn’t certain that he was going to make it. He was on the mend when I was coming into the first night of the Finals (Thursday) but he was far from out of the woods. The second day I figured out he was coming along better and (Saturday) I heard that he was out of the hospital. It was a weight lifted off of my shoulders.”
Payton and Grey, from Polson, were second and third in the bull riding standings as the Finals kicked off. The brothers essentially spent the year joined at the hip while going from rodeo to rodeo. Not having Grey around made it tough for Payton.
“We traveled the whole regular season together,” Payton explained, while getting handshakes and hugs from other cowboys. “We’re a little bit more than brothers, honestly. We’re pretty tight.
“My dad and his brother rode bulls back in the day. Now we’re doing the same thing. I couldn’t ask for a better traveling partner. The only thing I wish is that he could be here with me.”
In a way, he was.
The brothers touched base prior to Saturday night’s performance after Payton learned that he drew the Red Eye-owned bull.
“Me and him, we know that bull pretty good,” Payton said. “He had been on him a bunch. I called him before I got on and he said, ‘You’ll ride him, Payton.’
“I said, “OK, if you say so.’ And it worked.
“It was a little easier once I figured out that he was going to be OK. This whole weekend has been pretty dramatic, and I’m not one for drama. But when it affects someone that close to you, you just can’t help it.”
Aside from Payton and Grey Fitzpatrick, the conclusion of the Finals Rodeo didn’t carry a whole lot of drama.
Kalispell’s Tammy Jo Carpenter had a commanding lead in the Women’s All-Around competition and won her third such crown in four years.
“It’s very exciting and very rewarding,” Carpenter said of her latest title. “I’m pretty proud of my horses (Toad and Moby) for being as good as they are and helping me to achieve these goals.”
Carpenter admitted that winning an all-around title doesn’t necessarily make the next one easier. The NRA is full of tough competitors and Carpenter has to do her best each week to be in contention for the next.
“They’re always a challenge, that’s for sure,” said Carpenter, who competes in barrel racing and breakaway roping. “The competition is outstanding in both breakaway and the barrel. Unfortunately I didn’t rope as good this year as I have in the past so it made it a little bit tougher. But my barrel racing this year was much better than my roping.”
Sam Levine, of Wolf Creek, entered the weekend in the lead as the All-Around Cowboy and maintained that lead, with Hank Hollenbeck finishing second.
Even the Junior All-Around remained the same, with Tayle Moeykins, of Three Forks, finishing ahead of Belt’s Dillon Johnson and Ronan’s Kylie Lund.