Minooka — Dominic Dubberstine-Ellerbrock has been picked up, flipped over and stepped on – but he overall doesn’t mind. It’s the game he’s chosen.
It’s all part of riding bulls and competing in high school rodeos, including now earning a spot on the Illinois National High School rodeo team, quite an accomplishment for a 17-year-old who just took up the sport 18 months ago.
“I haven’t been seriously injured yet, knock on wood,” Dubberstine-Ellerbrock said. “I’ve been stepped on a few times and missed a rodeo or two.”
Dubberstine-Ellerbrock of Morris, a junior at Minooka Community High School, will participate in the 74th annual National High School Finals Rodeo Bull Riding and Light Rifle competition July 17 to July 23 in Gillette, Wyoming. The sanctioning group sponsors 1,800 events and awards $1.9 million in scholarships.
Eventually, great young bull riders might hope to become the next J.B. Mauney, the North Carolinian kid who has earned $7,419,474.90 riding bulls on the pro circuit.
Despite the hazards of the sport, Dubberstine-Ellerbrock said his mother, Candice Dubberstine-Rogel, and stepfather, Joe Rogel, are fully supporting him. Besides the chance at a national title, members of the National High School Rodeo Association may also earn scholarships, the association’s website said.
But if bull riding looks dangerous to the audience, that’s because it is. According to a study published in the International SportMed Journal in 2007, bull riding had an injury rate “1.56 times greater than amateur boxing, 1.75 times greater than semi-professional rugby, 10.3 times greater than American football, and 13.3 times greater than ice hockey.”
Another study published in the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine in 2009 analyzed 10 years of injury in high school rodeo. The study found that most injuries (40.9%) occurred when the rider was dismounting or “being bucked off of the animal.” The most frequent injuries were “contusions, sprains and strains” and the most injured body parts were the head and shoulders.
Dubberstine-Ellerbrock seems to have the physical and psychological credentials. He played high school football as a 140-pound linebacker. The top bull riding professionals, according to the professional rodeo association, generally are 5-foot-8 and between 130 and 150 pounds, lithe, but strong to stay aboard.
And as far as bull riding’s dangers being 10.3 times greater than American football, Candice Dubberstine-Rogel has watched Dominic play football, too.
Furthermore, Dominic Dubberstine-Ellerbrock didn’t minimize the risks of the sport.
“I’d say it’s pretty dangerous,” he said. “If you fall off, the bull is going to chase you down and run you over and just trample you.”
Dubberstine-Ellerbrock said he was introduced to rodeo after friends invited him to ride horses at their barn, which he enjoyed. They then took him to a few rodeos, he said.
“I kind of liked it; so I wanted to try it,” Dubberstine-Ellerbrock said.
According to Dominic, his mother agreed he could try the sport if he found a place to practice.
“I said, ‘OK,’ ” Dubberstine-Ellerbrock said. “A year later, I’m still doing it. And she’s been with me every step of the way, along with my stepdad.”
Dominic said he found a place to practice – Rugged Cross Cattle Company in Grand Ridge. Its Facebook page says the company helps grow bull riding as a sport by providing a place to learn and practice for beginners and veterans.
“You get on smaller bulls and work your way up,” Dominic said. “When you get to a certain point, they’ll [owners of Rugged Cross Cattle Company] help you get into the rodeos if you want. Some people like to ride a bull just to say they did. Most people do it to win some money and grow, just like with any sport. Start small and just grow with it.”
To get that “muscle memory” of learning to ride a bull, Dubberstine-Ellerbrock said he also practiced on a drop barrel: basically a 55-gallon drum on a big arm that moves up and down.
The goal, once a rider is actually on that bull, is to “stay on for eight seconds,” he said. But that’s easier said than done. A lot can go wrong in that small space of eight ticks, Dubberstine-Ellerbrock said.
“You can’t predict what the bull is going to do,” Dubberstine-Ellerbrock said. “So you just move with him.”
Both mom and stepdad said they attend every event, and that they are proud of what Dubberstine-Ellerbrock has accomplished in a short time. Even Dubberstine-Ellerbrock said he’s surprised he’s heading to the national competition this year.
If bull riding is so dangerous, why does he enjoy it?
“The challenge,” Dominic said. “The adrenaline rush.”
Dubberstine-Ellerbrock said he’d like to ride horses in the future. But for now, he’s sticking to bull riding.
“Also, horses are pretty expensive,” Dominic said.