As most locals know, MPRF stands for “Montana Pro Rodeo Finals,” but for Jack Stensland, the acronym will always have a double meaning. In 1979, he was one of the cowboys that went to the brand new Four Seasons Arena in Great Falls to ask the President of the ExpoPark if they could put on a rodeo in January.
“He said, ‘Yes, let’s do it.’ The purse the first year was $500 an event for three performances, but entry fees were $100 and there were only ten contestants,” remembers Stensland with a laugh. “Those first couple years were a struggle. To save money, we had to tear down the arena ourselves. None of the contestants got paid until the arena fence was down.”
January 2020 marks the 41st Annual MPRF, which has grown from a small event into a $100,000 rodeo. Not only is it among the highest paying circuit finals in the nation (if not the highest paying), but it also holds the distinction of being the United States’ oldest circuit finals.
“We’re in the fifth decade now. That’s a pretty cool deal,” says Stensland. “Kids and grandkids of those original contestants are now competing.”
In order to be qualified for the MPRF in January, contestants must participate in fifteen Montana rodeos by the end of the previous year. Montana is home to one of twelve circuit finals and is one of only three that isn’t shared by multiple states. All stock is hand-picked for the best possible rodeo experience. The contestant who comes in first place takes home over $10,000, more than five times the total purse of the first year.
“Everybody has worked hard to make this happen,”
In the MPRF’s seventh or eighth year, a rodeo clown named Butch Lemcooler impressed upon Stensland something that he’ll never forget. It was the night of the awards banquet, after the Sunday rodeo. Lemcooler was brought up to receive a belt buckle and say a few words.
“The temperature was twenty below that year, and the place was packed,” Stensland remembers. “Butch said, ‘This is the craziest thing I’ve ever been a part of.’ Our logo—MPRF—was right there. He said, “I know you think this means Montana Pro Rodeo Finals, but what it really stands for is Montana Pro Rodeo Family.”
The words resonated with Stensland.
“If it wasn’t for this family believing in something as crazy as a rodeo in January, this wouldn’t be what it is today,” he says. “It’s through the diligence of everyone involved that this is the best circuit finals it can be.”
The 41st Annual MPRF will be held January 10-12, 2020 at the Montana ExpoPark in Great Falls (with the Cowboy Calcutta on January 9). Stensland invites all to join in the action. The Montana Pro Rodeo Family welcomes you with open arms.
For more information on event schedules and tickets, visit montanaprorodeo.com.