Wright chasing title

Rookie bull rider Stetson Wright gets a big hug from bullfighter Cody Webster after posting a qualified ride Thursday night in the eighth round of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. Wright posted a 93.5 aboard Buck Jam from Stace Smith Rodeo Company. Just seconds later Sage Kimzey rode Bruiser for a 94 to snatch the title away. Wright was leading the all-around world standings entering Friday’s ninth go-round. Watching at left is Evan Allard, another of the bullfighters.

LAS VEGAS—Most fans have seen the growing trend where athletes in several sports are turning professional earlier and rodeo is no different with many younger contestants are skipping college and going straight to the PRCA.

During my time in Las Vegas during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, I visited with more and more young cowboys who are going straight from Little Britches or the other youth programs right to the PRCA.

Sure, the majority of contestants are still joining a college rodeo team and gaining that valuable experience first, but others are going straight to the PRCA as the growth in purses at many rodeos is allowing them to pay the expenses and make a living.

This year there area 39 first-time qualifiers to the National Finals Rodeo including 11 team ropers, seven bull riders and six barrel racers.

Included in that group are five rookies who are making noise at the Finals and a couple of them are right in the middle of the fight for world titles in their respective events.

That group includes Haven Meged and Shad Mayfield in tie-down roping, and Stetson Wright, Trey Kimzey and Daylon Swearingen in bull riding.

Wright was third in the bull riding world standings ahead of Friday’s eighth performance and he is leading the all-around world standings. There is no path for him to win the bull riding title with Sage Kimzey owning a huge lead, but the Utah cowboy could very well win the all-around crown as he had won $268,307 entering Friday’s ninth go-round, leaving him with a $16,000 lead over Clay Smith.

The younger Kimzey brother, Trey, is well back in the world standings and Swearingen is near the bottom of the Top 15 but both have been showing signs that they will be around for many years to come.

Meged, who calls Miles City, Mont., home, is really having a great Finals as he was leading the tie-down roping average entering last night’s ninth round and was fifth in the world standings.

He was $39,000 behind roping leader Shane Hanchey before last night’s round but if he held onto the average lead entering tonight’s final go-round he could easily win the world title with a qualified run tonight.

Junior Association planned

As a way to make sure more and more young contestants get into rodeo, the PRCA announced this week that it was forming the Jr. Rodeo Association to provide youths, ages 8 to 19, the opportunity to learn and participate in the various rode events.

The first event will be held in March at the Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth, with the final performance planned March 7 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.

Jr. Rodeo, the new youth initiative for the PRCA, is created to identify the next generation of contestants through education, fundamental development and a one-of-a-kind competition series. The online membership portal opened this week, and youth may join by visiting www.jrrodeo.org.

“The Jr. Rodeo initiative is important for the future growth of rodeo, and it is important for us to develop the future stars properly,” PRCA CEO George Taylor said. “Our new association is fundamentally built to embrace and grow youth participation in rodeo events. All rodeo starts here, and Jr. Rodeo is responsible for providing opportunities for kids to learn, improve and compete alongside the best cowboys in the best arenas like AT&T Stadium.”

The Jr. NFR is being sponsored by the Cowboy Channel and that network is putting at least $200,000 in added money into the first event. Jr. Rodeo’s focus is on core rodeo events and will feature bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, team roping (header/heeler), girl’s breakaway roping and girl’s barrel racing.

The Cowboy Channel Jr. NFR is a tournament-style format rodeo where qualifiers will compete in the long go-round with the top 15 contestants advancing to the semifinals. The championship round will be held at AT&T Stadium with the top six place winners competing before RFD-TV’s The American. The winners in the timed events also advance to RFD-TV’s The American Semi-Finals for a chance to win $1 million. The Jr. NFR will feature contestants between the ages of 14-19 who must still be in high school.

Cody to continue training sessions

Apache stock contractor Maury Tate will continue to conduct his bronc riding training sessions next summer at the Cody Nite Rodeo that he conducts.

Tate went to the PRCA several years ago to get their assistance in conducting the school and that program continues to grow.

Young bronc riders can come to Cody and get instruction from several former PRCA champions during the day and then when they are ready, they can enter the Cody Nite Rodeos and test what they’ve learned in the arena.

Tate has a bunkhouse where the young riders can stay free and there is no cost for the camp.

During the National Finals, Tate got to visit with 20-time NFR saddle bronc qualifier Rod Hay after his son Dawson rode Tate’s bronc Sue City Sue to the sixth go-round title. Tate invited the elder Hay to help with the training sessions and the Canadian legend agree to make the trip to Cody to assist with the effort.

Sage wins battle with Bruiser

Five-time world champion bull rider Sage Kimzey all but wrapped up his sixth straight title Thursday by riding Powder River Rodeo’s SweetPro’s Bruiser for a dazzling 94.

Bruiser was the 2017 PRCA Bull of the Year and was second in 2018. Bruiser also was top bull of the Wrangler NFR in 2015 and 2017.

“It’s just incredible,” Kimzey said of his ride on Bruiser. “Man, Bruiser is one of the most incredible bulls of all time, and getting on him is a dream in itself. I’m speechless, honestly. Today, I kept telling myself not to let the moment be bigger than you, and I feel like I was made for this moment.”

Kimzey’s ride was a career best in terms of points and just missed breaking the round record of 95 points set by Colby Yates in 2002 aboard Big Bend Rodeo’s Unforgiven.

jgoodman@swoknews.com

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