ELLENSBURG RODEO ROYALTY
Inducted in 2011
From its 1923 birth onward, the Ellensburg Rodeo Board has featured a royal court consisting of an Ellensburg rodeo queen and princesses. This is a tradition handed down from the earliest (late nineteenth century) North American rodeos, where cowgirl competitors were honored with the titles of rodeo queen and princess. Over the 89 years of Ellensburg Rodeo history, the Rodeo Board and a select committee annually have chosen a royal court. The queen of the Ellensburg Rodeo is a local cowgirl, as is the princess. Until recently, there was a King County princess; throughout the years princesses represented various northwest communities, from Spokane to Wenatchee to Tacoma. The queen and princess are chosen on the basis of horseback riding skills, oratory, appearance and fashion sense, and poise.
The Ellensburg Rodeo queen and her princess serve as ambassadors and representatives of the rodeo. Throughout the year, they travel around the Pacific Northwest, riding their horses in neighboring rodeo parades and appearing at a variety of events. During August and September, they are booked daily at myriad venues—charity events, social gatherings, newspaper, radio, and television interviews—preceding and during the Ellensburg Rodeo. At each Ellensburg Rodeo performance the rodeo royalty demonstrate their horse-riding skills during high speed entrances into and around the rodeo arena.
Hall of Fame Board Members Rochelle Bierek and Julie Virden are both former Ellensburg Rodeo Princesses. Bierek recalls, “Historically, the royal court provides the glitz and glamour of the rodeo, the beauty to go with the beasts. Being on court is an amazing experience that helps shape girls into the women they are meant to become. It provides tools necessary to become successful in life: communication skills and poise.” Virden agreed, stating “It was a tremendous honor to serve as a member of the Royal Court and promote such an outstanding rodeo. The experiences and opportunities I had during that year helped shape me into the person I am today.”
Bierek and Virden reflected on both continuity and change in the Ellensburg Rodeo Royal Court. In the 1920s, one of the criteria for selection was a girl’s ability to sell rodeo tickets. And back then, the Rodeo Board alone selected the court, with no outside consultation. “Today, the girls compete in speech, riding, and appearance and are judged by a committee with allied rodeo groups and community representation” said Bierek. Virden noted, “While over time the job of the court has remained relatively the same—to promote the rodeo—the selection process and some of the criteria and activities have changed.”
Both women have fond memories of their time on the Court. “Being on court makes you a member of a sorority of women who have a common bond,” Bierek concluded.
Since 1923, more than 340 young women have served on the Ellensburg Rodeo Royal Court. Virden and Bierek stated this year’s event will induct all queens and princesses from 1923-present and will also include all of those selected in the future.