Nebraska High School Rodeo season in underway
Photos courtesy of JJJ Photo
Every spring, high school boys and girls from across the country saddle up their horses, gather up their rigging and start practicing. This year, more than 220 students from across Nebraska will compete in high school rodeos, competing for a chance to attend the state and national finals.
In Nebraska, high school rodeo is a great opportunity for high school students to become involved in a state organization that allows them to compete across the state in numerous rodeo events.
In fact, there are 12 events that students can choose from, including tie down roping, boys cutting, girls cutting, team roping, saddle bronc riding, bareback bronc riding, goat tying, barrel racing, breakaway roping, steer wresting, pole bending and bull riding.
The top 30 competitors in each event will be invited to the state finals, held this year in Hastings from June 20-23. After the state finals, the top four competitors in each event will be invited to the national finals, held in Rock Springs, Wyo., from July 15-21. A total of 1,500 athletes from across the globe will compete at this event.
Over the course of the summer, student will have the chance to compete in 28-29 rodeos, which are held every weekend starting the last weekend of April and running until the state finals.
The entry fee for each event is just $15, no matter what event a student wants to compete in. “In a timed event with cattle that includes stock charge. If you are a rough stock rider, you get help getting on the livestock. We have pickup men and bull fighters. There is no where else you can pay that little and get that much out of it,” said Rod Nelson, adult president of the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association.
In addition to competing for a spot in the finals, students also compete for buckles, saddle, bits, spurs and other prizes. However, students gain much more than physical items from being involved in rodeo.
“You see young people that take advantage of an opportunity to not only learn about rodeo, but also self discipline. I’ve seen it not just with my own kids, but also with others. I see how they prepare to practice, what they give up in terms of their social life and other school activities. They go to their practices, come home and get their studies done, and then have rodeo practice,” said Nelson.
Nelson competed for four years, and has worked the association for six years as a parent. The biggest difference he sees in the rodeo students is their focus and determination.
“We see a lot of focused kids. They have to maintain a certain GPA in the school to be eligible to compete. We have a lot of response from merchants and people in different towns on how well liked the kids are, and how polite they are. They are involved in their own life in creating something,” said Nelson.
He also thinks the rodeo helps students to stay involved in an event throughout the summer. “It keeps them out of trouble, and keeps them working towards something positive. I’ve seen several kids have to deal with real life situations like a loss of a horse, and that is a real struggle. However, it happens, and you deal with it and go on,” he said.
Learning to deal with difficult situations helps student to grow and learn, and helps them deal with difficult situations down the road as well, according to Nelson. Even when these events happen, there is a support team to help students, and other students help out as well.
The friendships that students gain from high school rodeo carry on through the students’ lives. Nelson said, “Some of the biggest rewards outside of winning or in competition is the contacts and people and friends you will make that will last a lifetime. Some of those friends can be great contacts for things later in life; they are good connections.”
Many of the students who get involved with rodeo continue to compete in college, and many scholarship opportunities are available for students who seek them. The NHSRA has scholarships for seniors, and last year every student who applied and went through the interview process received a scholarship.
In addition, college recruiters attend many of the bigger rodeos including the state and national finals, and students can earn scholarships to rodeo in college.
“We have had several national champions from our state. We have some competitors that went on and are now in the PRCA hall of fame. Even at other levels, people have made great rodeo careers,” Nelson said.
The unique part of high school rodeo is that students are not part of a team from a school; it’s all individual. “It’s an individual deal. That is what makes rodeo unique. You can’t show up and have a coach tell you everything to do. You have to find the help you need and do it yourself,” he said.
However, students are not left to learn everything by themselves, and many of the early rodeos will hold clinics for students to learn new skills or hone old ones.
“We have a lot of schools that have mini clinics. These will help answer questions. No one starts out knowing everything. We have a lot of experienced parents who can teach kids the things they need to know that makes it a quicker learning process,” Nelson explained.
In addition to competing in rodeo events, women also have the chance to compete for the NHSRA Queen title. “There are usually several good scholarships to go along with winning the title. They also win prizes with their coronation, such as a saddle. It’s a pretty big payoff. It would be great to see more girls compete in that. I think every girl that has gone through has been glad they did,” he said.
The Queen can still compete at the events in a rodeo, but is also responsible for helping with the flag presentation, grand entries and award presentations.
“It’s been a lifelong dream to become the NHSRA queen. Without my parents help and many others, I would have never been able to do that. It takes a lot of effort and hard work, and people don’t always realize what it takes. I appreciate all of the help I’ve received over the years,” said the current Queen, Jimi Pinney, who is a senior at Ainsworth High School.
For those who are not interested in the Queen contest but still want leadership experience, the state association has leadership positions that students can run for. “Some of the kids, if they want leadership opportunities even at the state level, we provide opportunity for travel and they share their experiences with the rest of the membership. At the national level, they travel quite a bit across the country,” Nelson said.
There are also opportunities for junior high students to compete as well. “These junior high kids, when they come into high school, they aren’t intimidated by the older kids. The experience rodeoing really pays off. The kids in junior high are not as big, as strong or as fast as the upperclassmen. But when they get in high school, they have the experience to go on and really be successful,” said Nelson.
No matter what age the students are, competing in high school rodeo is a great way for students to get first hand experience. “It’s a great stepping stone to college rodeo, then amateur and then professional,” said Nelson.