Competing at the National High School Finals Rodeo is an honor for the 1,500 contestants who competed from the United States, Canada and Australia. The event, held from July 15-21 at the Sweetwater Event Complex in Rock Springs, Wyo., crowned champions in both men’s and women’s events.
The top 20 contestants in each event competed in the short round. They competed for a National Championship, bragging rights, college scholarships, buckles and other products.
Several students from Nebraska found success at the finals. One of the highest finishers was the team roping duo of Brady and Riley Wakefield of O’Neil, Neb.
“That is the best that we have done. We have been roping together since we were younger, and whenever we are in the same age group we roped together,” said Brady Wakefield.
Wakefield, who is 17 and will be a senior this fall, ropes with his little brother Riley, who is 16 and will be a junior.
“I like it that we did so well before my senior year. It means we will hopefully get to go back,” Brady Wakefield said.
He has competed in the team roping since he was in sixth grade, and competes as the header in his team. This was his second year to compete at the finals.
“When I went my freshman year, I was more nervous. I hadn’t been many places like that, and there was pressure. It was better this time,” he said.
In addition to team roping, he also serves as the student president of the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association. “I thought it was a good representation that the people trusted me and had faith in me that I could do the job. I will get to go to a national meeting, and all of the states that have rodeos all go to it. I also run our club meetings,” he said.
After high school, Brady Wakefield wants to apply for his PRCA permit, and also rodeo in college. He also steer wrestles.
Riley Wakefield, who is the heeler for the team, serves as the vice president of their club. “I think I am going to enjoy the job. I really like our association and want to give something back,” he said.
His trip to the finals this year felt different this time. “I really didn’t know what to think. I’ve been to a lot of finals, but it was different at the national finals because they have so much more,” he said.
He also calf ropes and steer wrestles, and is looking to improve in those areas this coming year. “I’d like to improve my other two events. I want to get better in the calf roping, and get bigger for steer wrestling. That will help me work towards the all around,” he said.
Both boys take after their father, Jim Wakefield, who also team roped and steer wrestled, and did so in the PRCA for 20 years. He currently serves as the adult president for the club, and is proud of all the kids from Nebraska who competed.
“It sounds corny, but I don’t worry about results. The lessons that are learned and what happens are more important. There is so much that kids can learn from the process and the competition, and that’s the real value of rodeo,” he said.
He continued, “To have them perform that well at the national level is exciting. We really stress to enjoy the journey. High school is a step on the way. For some kids it’s the end of their career. There are also kids who have aspirations to go further. It’s great to see them compete at this level and gain some confidence. It’s fun to see them excel at their level and have ambitions of going beyond that.”
Jim Wakefield is a strong believer that rodeo builds character, and that it’s more about the journey than the end prize. “Rodeo is about life lessons, and not just about belt buckles and winning. There is so much you can learn from a horse and a cow that you can’t learn from football,” he said.
He added, “That might be the neatest part. Nobody sits the bench. If you put your name in you can compete. You can work at it as hard as you want to, and you get out of it what you put into it. If you work hard and put in the time, you will be rewarded.”
Another competitor from Nebraska who competed well was Dillion Simonson of Purdum, Neb. He finished third in the steer wrestling event.
“It meant quite a bit to me because of all the hard work I’ve put in. It paid off in the end, and was a good way to finish high school,” he said.
Simonson has been steer wrestling since junior high school, where he started ground bulldogging. Then when he was a freshman he moved from the ground to the horse. This was his third trip to the finals, and the best year that he has had.
He was the state champion in the event, and went into the finals with high aspirations. “I wanted to win. At nationals, I felt that I was as fast as I could be. I did what I could with the steers that were drawn to me. They challenged me. I drew a couple that were kind of tricky, but it worked out well though,” he said.
Simonson enjoys steer wrestling because of the feeling it gives him. “The rush of steer wrestling is amazing. It’s fun once you get the hang of it, and it’s pretty exciting,” Simonson said.
Now that he has finished high school, Simonson has applied for his PRCA card and is working now to get his permit filled. Contestants must earn so much money in order to fill the card.
“Dillion is already winning some money in the PRCA. It’s at mid-state Nebraska state rodeos. It’s fun to see them not be satisfied with state championships or high school titles and use those as an opportunity to learn how to compete,” said Jim Wakefield.
Simonson plans to attend Laramie County Community College in Cheyenne, Wyo., to attend college and to rodeo. “I am going to rodeo as long as I can and see how it goes,” he said.
He has enjoyed rodeoing in Nebraska for many reasons. “I enjoy the people that I get to meet, and all the friends that I have met. The competition is pretty good too,” he said.
All-in-all, students from Nebraska competed well at the finals. “Nebraska historically has not done that well at the finals. This year, Nebraska had a pretty good year, and I’m proud of our club,” said Brady Wakefield. ❖
“Rodeo is about life lessons, and not just about belt buckles and winning. There is so much you can learn from a horse and a cow that you can’t learn from football.”
~ Jim Wakefield