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High school years have been a wild ride

Greg Franko isn't too worried about the bumps and bruises that will inevitably come out in the real world.

The New Richmond High School graduating senior is used to a bumpy ride.

Since he was 4-years-old, Franko has been riding farm animals for the thrill of it.

"Rodeo has been in my family since my mom," Franko explained. "My mom did other rodeo events, and my sisters and brothers have done rodeo."

Traveling to rodeos across the region turned out to be a good training ground for Franko. By the age of 7, Franko was riding bucking calves and by 8 he had graduated to bulls.

In 1998, Franko was ranked third in the nation for young bull riders.

When he was 14, Franko took the next step -- riding big bulls in competition.

These days Franko competes on the Minnesota High School rodeo circuit. He will attend six rodeo events during the current spring season, which runs from early May through June.

Franko is one of 20 Minnesota and Wisconsin high school bull riders on a rodeo team of 125 competitors. The student riders each compete for points at various competitions, with the top four eventually advancing to the next level.

Bull riders attempt to remain on the hard-charging animals for a minimum of eight seconds. Points are awarded based on a rider's time and the difficulty of the ride provided by the bull.

"My highest score ever was 82 out of 100," he said.

Franko's goal this season is to ride at least 12 different bulls, with the hopes of qualifying for the national high school rodeo competition this summer.

He's not sure if he'll achieve his goal, but he's going to try his best.

"I'm right on the edge of making it," he admitted.

Franko said the thrill of the ride has kept him in the sport all these years, and he expects to continue with rodeos in some fashion in the future.

"It's challenging," Franko said of his interest in the sport. "I still get butterflies in my stomach when I ride. The first bull of the new season is when I get the most nervous.

"After that, it's not so bad. You just have to keep your mind clear and focused."

Franko admits that bull riding isn't for everyone. He guesses he has been stepped on 15 to 20 times in his young rodeo career, and he has suffered a couple concussions.

"But no broken bones over all these years," he proudly adds.

As for his educational and work future, Franko has a standing offer to attend Casper College in Wyoming where he can join the school's rodeo club.

"But I'm undecided about it," said Franko, who has been a New Richmond FFA member for four years and has worked at Raymond Dairy, Inc. for several years. "I have some choices to make."

Down the road, Franko hopes to forge a career in agriculture or farming. He'd like to own his own farm someday and hopes to have his own livestock.

He said his education at New Richmond High School has prepared him well for whatever decision he makes.

"I'm happy with the education I've gotten," he said. "I've taken all the ag classes there were."

Franko is the son of Tim and Ellen Franko of New Richmond. He has two older sisters, Jill and Beth, and one older brother, Jeremy.