Roper Joe is back for another year. Volunteers have been manning their posts since Friday. Contestants and their families were continuing to arrive Saturday evening.

Roper Joe is back for another year. Volunteers have been manning their posts since Friday. Contestants and their families were continuing to arrive Saturday evening.

The stage is set for tonight’s opening performance of the 20th annual International Finals Youth Rodeo beginning at 8 p.m. at the Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center.

During tonight’s performance, opening ceremonies will include names being read of those “in honor of and in memory of,” to recognize those longtime IFYR volunteers who for whatever reason are not able be here this year.

Special guest at tonight’s performance will be Kelly Blanton, from Taylorsville, N.C., who was critically injured and paralyzed a year ago in the practice arena and who never was able to compete in the IFYR.

She will be helping read the names of those being recognized tonight.

By early Saturday, 239 contestants had made it to the expo center. By 4:30 p.m., that number had grown to 358.

Saturday’s partly cloudy weather much of the day, along with a sound wind, provided some relief from the 100-degree Friday which greeted those contestants and their families. It also brought relief to the large number of volunteers.

Roper Joe is the eightyear- old dachshund of Bill and Corine Chrz, who are volunteers on the camping committee. They got Roper Joe at the IFYR as a puppy.

Bill and Corine are the parents of Ranay Churchwell, who, along with her husband Bobby, heads up the large camping committee.

Check-in, which began 8 a.m. at Friday, continues through today until noon when the more than 860 contestants must be here. There is a mandatory contestant meeting at 1 p.m. today, preceding Sunday’s opening round action.

Mike Jackson, operations manager of the expo center and rodeo coordinator, said Saturday afternoon, “Everything was so far so good. It seems to be going pretty smoothly, and I haven’t had anything major come up.”

For a young Arkansas girl, this is her first time to compete in the IFYR. Laine Willis, 15, from Star City in the southeastern portion of the state, will compete in the barrel racing and pole bending this week. She says barrels is her strongest event of the two.

A member of the Arkansas High School Rodeo Association, Willis indicated she found out about the IFYR from friends who had competed here previously. “People told us about it and told us how much fun it was,” she said.

She and her mother Billie both complimented the volunteers, saying, “They’ve been nice and pretty helpful.”

Willis said she’s looking forward to competing here. Even though she and her family own five horses, she only brought one and will compete in both events on it.

Compared to the temperatures back home, where it was 107 degrees on the day they left, it’s cooler in Shawnee, the family said.

Three contestants from Florida, even though they reside in different parts of the state, weathered Tropical Depression Debbie from a couple weeks back before heading to Shawnee.

Kylee Hamilton is from Dade City, Curtis Culligan hails from Fort Lauderdale and Austin Barber is from Lake City.

Barber, 18, said he and some of his friends actually helped some of those people whose homes were flooded to get their belongings out. He said water was six feet deep in some areas.

This will be the fourth and final IFYR for Hamilton, 17, who graduated in June. She competes only in the breakaway roping.

She finished sixth overall her first year, she said, then didn’t fare well either of the last two. She’s hoping for a better IFYR this year.

Culligan, 17, entered in only the team roping, is making his second IFYR appearance. He said last year “was no good.”

This is Barber’s first time at the IFYR and he, too, like Culligan, will compete in the team roping.

Barber said he’s here because “everyone says it’s a good time and a good rodeo to come out here.”

Hamilton, who said her arena at home had lots of water in it, adding the “pastures still do,” related she’s kept coming back to the IFYR “because it’s a lot of fun and the Nationals don’t pay money,” even though she will compete at them in breakaway.

Culligan nodded he’s here for the same reasons, the money. He, too, will compete at the Nationals in both calf roping and team roping.