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Lakota youth is national saddle bronc champ

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INTERIOR, S.D. - While still in the seventh grade, Interior cowboy Jeremy Meeks made a decision: One way or the other, he was going to ride in a Little Britches rodeo in Las Vegas, Nev.

His mother said the 12-year-old cowboy hitched a ride with another rodeo family out of Rapid City. Though he didn't win, he did ride.

Six years later that same determination, a pile of talent, and a little luck of the draw made the Lakota cowboy the 2000 National High School Finals Rodeo Saddle Bronc Champion.

This year's finals in Springfield, Ill., July 24-30 drew more than 1,500 contestants from across the country. The saddle bronc event alone had between 160 and 170 riders.

Meeks rode two horses in the first two go-rounds to earn a combined score of 132 points and take the lead going into the championship round. On his final horse, he scored a respectable 74, good enough to nail down the championship.

He also competed in bareback and placed fifth in the All-Around.

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Meeks, a recent graduate of Gordon (Neb.) High School, won the All-Around Championship in the South Dakota finals, competing in bareback, bullriding and saddle bronc.

His mother, Marilyn Halverson of Gordon, said Jeremy was a champion before he won that title. In 1998 Meeks earned the Little Britches world championship in saddle bronc in Littleton, Colo.

"Right at the start, I told him, 'This is your gig, if you want it you go for it.' And that's exactly what he's done."

Meeks will attend Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College on a rodeo scholarship this fall. He plans to make the best of it by majoring in history with an eye to becoming a high school teacher.

In the meantime, there's rodeo and plenty of it.

Last summer the Badlands cowboy placed second in the average in the rookie Bronc Riding at Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days. His performance was good enough to earn him his Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association card in one rodeo.

On Aug. 5 the Oglala Sioux Tribe honored the young man with a star quilt and recognition during its annual fair, rodeo and pow wow in Pine Ridge. An open house and honoring will also be held at the Gordon City Park on Aug. 18 from 3 to 6 p.m.