Raise ‘Em Rank Series Brings Bull Riding Back to Corn Palace – Mitchell Republic
MITCHELL – For the first time since 2019, bull riding is back at Corn Palace.
On Friday and Saturday, September 16 and 17, the Raise ‘Em Rank bull riding series — the two-year organization run by Canton, South Dakota resident Dillon Swanson — heads to Corn Palace for the series finals. 2022.
What sets Raise ‘Em Rank apart from most of its peer organizations are the runners. At any given event, there are around 30 professional bull riders, but there are also a similar number of young riders, ages 6 to 16, who compete on miniature bulls. Such a practice is rare in the region, but Swanson recognizes that ensuring the longevity of premier bullfighting events begins with training future generations of riders.
“Our goal is to try to breed this next generation of bulls, but we also understand that without bull riders, these events are going to be abandoned. … I don’t really know of many other organizations in the Midwest that give that opportunity to kids. We’re pretty unique in how we do it,” Swanson said. “There are a few other places that are starting to take the minis and do it, but that’s a bigger part of our shows than other places. The fans who come to our shows are going to see enough of the mini bulls, but they’re also going to see the big bulls.
Bull riding begins at 7 p.m. on Friday nights (which also has a throwback theme with 1990s Western clothing encouraged) while Saturday events begin at 7 p.m. . For the first time, Raise ‘Em Rank will also feature a “super senior” division at the year-end finals, with former professional bull riders over the age of 50 coming out of retirement for one last run.
The open pro competition will feature Letcher’s Mason Moody, who is second in the year-end standings behind New Underwood’s Jack Rodenbaugh. Rodenbaugh will not compete this weekend due to injury. Colome’s Riley Shippy is fifth in the standings, with Tyson Hill and Ben Wood rounding out the top five.
In the mini junior division, Ethan’s Hunter Hohn leads the standings, with Mitchell’s Colt Evenson also in the top five.
Bring back the bull on horseback
Drawing inspiration from the Professional Bull Riders organization’s penchant for hosting events in unique locations – Swanson pointed to a PBR event where the arena was set up on the deck of an aircraft carrier as an example – the Corn Palace will be the last of several unique stops on this year’s Raise ‘Em Rank schedule.
Swanson is looking forward to bringing bull riding back to Corn Palace after a three-year absence – the former Corn Palace Challenge was a PRCA-sanctioned event every September – and recalls previous events at an apple orchard in Harrisburg and a wedding venue in Canton (also the site of last year’s series finals) as highlights leading up to this weekend’s year-end finals.
“For these bull riding events, I always wanted to organize them in such a way that the locations of the venues were exciting; PBR really paved the way for this stuff,” Swanson said. “The Corn Palace is super unique and has always been a great venue for bull riding events, and we’re excited to bring it back.”
Ultimately, attendance will determine the event’s success and Mitchell’s future for the Raise ‘Em Rank event organization, with Swanson expressing a desire to make Corn Palace a regular stop, perhaps even in as the dedicated host of the series finales.
“I want to keep doing that, and hopefully we can make Mitchell the home of our Finals in the years to come,” Swanson said. “It will really depend, for us, on whether we have 400 people in the stands or if we sell the place. It’s a lot more fun to ride bulls when the crowd is full and they’re loud.
So you wanna be a cowboy?
According to Swanson, the eastern half of South Dakota has historically not had many athletes competing in bull riding or other raw events despite a plethora of athletic talent, the main reason being a lack of exposure. and opportunities. His goal is to fight this through the youth divisions of Raise ‘Em Rank.
“A lot of the kids we bring in to compete don’t come from an agricultural, ranching or rural background, but at some point want to be a cowboy and we give them the opportunity to learn about the right caliber stock, safe and build them up to what it takes,” Swanson explained. “The other option is to wait until you’re in high school and ride bulls born to become male like that come out of our breeding program and it becomes really, really difficult to learn a sport when your competitor is 1,400 years old for 1,600 pounds and doesn’t know what “slow” means.
Sending youngsters to ride bulls is not a stunt or a novelty. The young riders are divided into four age groups: mini peewee (6 to 8 years old), mini juniors (9 to 11 years old), mini seniors (12 to 14 years old) and novices (15 to 16 years old), of which the last rides adult bulls, but not those found at the open competition level. Each division competes for cash prizes and custom gear such as leg warmers, ropes, and belt buckles at each event. Additionally, the top five competitors after Friday and Saturday’s year-end competition qualify for the World Miniature Bull Championship World Finals to be held in early October in Mesquite, Texas.
“For a lot of these kids, winning an event might not be their goal, but they just have the guts to nod,” Swanson said. “They are made and the level of confidence and growth you see in these kids is phenomenal and so impressive.”
A fascination with bulls stems from Swanson’s childhood, when he spent countless hours watching his father, Phil, ride bulls. This sparked a passion that took many forms.
Following in his father’s footsteps, Swanson, now in his early 30s, rode bulls for a time during his late high school and college years. As well as launching the Raise ‘Em Rank series – a relatively small operation with Swanson at the forefront with duties ranging from event production to stock contracting – and getting the organization started, he’s also raising bucking bulls.
Driven by a passion that isn’t expected to fade anytime soon, Swanson is focused on moving Raise ‘Em Rank forward in a positive direction and making a difference in the local bull community.
“I’ve always wanted to be involved in rodeo. I never found huge success as a bull rider, but hopefully as a stock entrepreneur and event producer I found a bit of a niche,” Swanson said. “I know I have a passion for it, and I want to make it something people look forward to every year.”