Living it up under the lights

Wade Sumpter of Fowler Colo. takes down his steer in 5.7 seconds during the second night of the 103 War Bonnet Round Up Rodeo Friday at Sandy Downs. Sumpter, a six-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier, played linebacker for the University of Northern Colorado from 2000 to 2004 and has been a full-time cowboy since 2005. Pat Sutphin /

For the Colorado steer wrestler who brought the Sandy Downs crowd to its feet Friday night at the 103rd War Bonnet roundup, football and bull dogging go hand in hand.

Wade Sumpter, who recorded a time of 5.7 seconds, played linebacker for the University of Northern Colorado from 2000 to 2004. College was a short break from rodeo for the Fowler, Colo., man, but he said it set the stage for his full-time return to the sport in 2005 when he was a rookie.

“It’s kinda the same sport,” Sumpter said. “You get used to physical stuff. You get to tackle.”

Sumpter, who is a six-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier, returned to War Bonnet after a brief hiatus from Sandy Downs. He said he’s had good experiences at Idaho’s oldest rodeo and likes the turnout.

He also didn’t mind the steady wind that stirred up dust in the arena Friday.

“The weather’s nice and cool here today,” Sumpter said. “It’s a good rodeo. Good crowd.”

Sumpter grew up on a ranch and got into rodeo early in life. His next rodeo is in Strathmore, Alberta, which is six hours northeast of Calgary. In his near-decade as a full-time cowboy, he has made his share of friends across North America.

“Every state there is, every back road, if there’s a cut across between there and here, we’ve been across it,” Sumpter said. “I know somebody in just about every town I drive through.”

War Bonnet has been a frequent stop for the lone Idaho tie down roper to compete Friday. A steer that didn’t seem to want to stay still left Lex Smith without a time, but the Malad cowboy was all smiles standing next to his horse, Red, a few minutes later.

Rodeo is and always will be a family affair for Smith, who said he has been competing to some degree since age 5. His father was a saddle bronc rider and he and his siblings all competed in high school rodeo.

“Now we’re all grown up and have families and travel with our families,” Smith said.

The Malad High School graduate holds down a full time job, but rodeos every opportunity he gets and brings his family with him. His wife ropes and competes in barrel racing, and he has three children under the age of 8 who spend plenty of time in a saddle.

Smith said they often go to amateur rodeos so they can all compete, which gives him a chance to team rope with his oldest son, who is 7. When he competes in PRCA rodeos, they come watch and sometimes do more than just cheer.

“The two boys like to critique me when I’m done,” Smith said with a laugh. “They think it’s pretty cool.”

Smith has never qualified for the NFR, but he said rodeo has become more of something he can share with his wife and children. They raise and sell horses, and Smith said Red has been a particularly good horse for him in the nine years he’s had him.

“He’s 16 years old and I’m hoping he’ll go another 10 years so my boys can ride him,” Smith said.

Smith’s sons compete in junior rodeos, and he said he’s sure his 2 year-old daughter will be following in the footsteps of her brothers and parents.

“She’s riding by herself already,” he said with a smile. “We’ve got a 23-year-old mare who’s been good to us.”