ALVA, Okla. â€“ Itâ€™s been a long time coming for the Northwestern Oklahoma State University rodeo team.
For the first time in seven years, the Rangers have won the Central Plains Regionâ€™s womenâ€™s team title, clinching the championship this past weekend by winning the Fort Hays (Kan.) State University rodeo.
Through nine of 10 events â€“ the final rodeo of the 2014-15 season will be this coming weekend at Oklahoma Panhandle State Universityâ€™s Doc Gardner Memorial Rodeo in Guymon, Okla. â€“ the Northwestern women have won five titles.
â€śIâ€™m very proud of our womenâ€™s team this year,â€ť said Stockton Graves, the Rangers rodeo coach. â€śWe set our goal at the first of the year to win the region, and weâ€™ve accomplished that. We have one more rodeo this season, and weâ€™d like to close that one out with a win.â€ť
Thatâ€™s highly possible. Northwestern is 849 points ahead of the second-place team, rival Southwestern Oklahoma State University, and nearly 1,100 better than No. 3 Southeastern Oklahoma State University. Winning at least half the events in a 10-rodeo season is a major statement.
â€śOur team has really worked together, and we try to build each other up,â€ť said Shayna Miller of Faith, S.D., who won goat tying in Hays to clinch the region title. â€śIâ€™m pretty sure we all had that (team title) on our mind.â€ť
In Hays, Miller won the first round with a 7.7-second run, then finished second in the final round to win the title with a two-run cumulative time of 15.9 seconds â€“ half a second faster than the field, which included three other Rangers: Lauren Barnes of Buckeye, Ariz.; Elli Price of Leady, Okla.; and Tearnee Nelson of Faith, S.D. Barnes finished tied for third, while Price was sixth.
For the third time this season, Miller led the way for the Rangers.
â€śSheâ€™s had a huge impact on our womenâ€™s team,â€ť Graves said of Miller. “Sheâ€™s scored over 1,000 points in goat-tying. Sheâ€™s a real hard worker and gives those girls something to look up to. Sheâ€™s had a big influence on our team.â€ť
That makes a difference, especially on a team that has seen some success in recent years. The last two seasons, the Northwestern women also qualified as a team to the College National Finals Rodeo by finishing second in the region.
â€śEven though Iâ€™m leading it, Karley (Kile) and Lauren have put a lot of points in there,â€ť Miller said. â€śWe wouldnâ€™t be winning the region if it wasnâ€™t for all of us together.â€ť
Thatâ€™s a great building block for the teamâ€™s future. Any time a group sees success, it helps each individual in the group see how the work pays off.
â€śIt gives them some sort of pride and gives us something to look forward to and proves that we can do it,â€ť Graves said. â€śThey take pride in being one of the top two teams in the region and hopefully one of the top two teams in the nation.â€ť
Other short-round qualifiers for the women were breakaway roper Samantha McGuire of Backus, Minn. and barrel racer Sara Bynum of Beggs, Okla. The Northwestern men were led by Laine Herl of Goodland, Kan., who placed in both heading and steer wrestling.
Herl won the short round in steer wrestling with a 5.4-second run and finished second in the two-run aggregate. He and heeler Chase Lako of Hunter, N.D., finished third in team roping. Another two-event star, Tyler Batie of Black Hawk, S.D., placed fifth in bulldogging and team roping, competing with heading teammate Edgar Fierro of Kingfisher, Okla. Another steer wrestler, Grayson Allred of Kanarraville, Utah, finished sixth.
The top Ranger in team roping was header Dalton Richards of Hawkinsville, Ga., who placed second with heeler Ben Whiddon of Southeastern. They finished in a tie for second place in the first round with Herl/Lako, then posted an 11.8-second run to finish second in the short round. Richards sits second in the region heading into the final event of the season.
â€śIâ€™ve been this close before, so Iâ€™m not really trying to think about it too much,â€ť said Richards, who will, â€śjust keep roping my game and see how it goes.â€ť
GUYMON, Okla. â€“ Lauren Heaton is quite proud to represent the state of Oklahoma as she travels the rodeo circuit in 2015.
She is the first Miss Rodeo Oklahoma to win the Miss Rodeo America title, and she will be in the Oklahoma Panhandle for the Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 1; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 2; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 3, at Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena.
â€śI was raised in Oklahoma rodeo,â€ť said Heaton, a 2013 Oklahoma State University graduate from Alva, Okla. â€śIt gave me so much. It created so much of who I am today. I want to take so much of what Oklahomans are. Thereâ€™s such a spirit to Oklahomans.
â€śI really hope to take that across the country and showcase that to the rest of the rodeo industry.â€ť
Heaton was crowned last December during the pageant that took place in conjunction with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Sheâ€™s spent the last five months as the sportâ€™s primary ambassador.
Now sheâ€™s adding a home state rodeo to her list of events this season.
â€śWeâ€™re very excited to have Lauren coming back to Guymon this year,â€ť said Becky Robinson, a longtime member of the Pioneer Days Rodeo committee. â€śIt was important to us to have the first Oklahoman Miss Rodeo America in Guymon.â€ť
Heaton is one of many rodeo queens who will be part of the festivities. Itâ€™s just part of the overall package that is Pioneer Days Rodeo, which will feature seven straight days of competition with â€śslackâ€ť beginning at 8 a.m. through the weekdays â€“ steer roping will take place Monday, April 27, and Tuesday, April 28; team roping, steer wrestling and tie-down roping will be Wednesday, April 29, and Thursday, April 30; and barrel racing will be Friday, May 1.
In all, nearly 1,000 cowboys and cowgirls will be battling through the week for Oklahoma Panhandle cash. Guymon is a major stop on the ProRodeo tour.
â€śWe take a lot of pride in being a rodeo that the cowboys want to come to,â€ť said Jim Quimby, chairman of the rodeo committee. â€śWe have a great history of more than 80 years, and the contestants know that weâ€™re going to cater to them.â€ť
It makes sense. After all, cowboys with ties to the Oklahoma Panhandle have earned 12 gold buckles: saddle bronc riders Billy Etbauer (5), Robert Etbauer (2), Taos Muncy (2), Tom Reeves and Jeffery Willert join heeler Jhett Johnson as world champions. All six cowboys were part of the rodeo team at Oklahoma Panhandle State University in nearby Goodwell, Okla.
But there are many more contestants with ties to Texas County that are or have been NFR regulars, including two-time reserve world champion saddle bronc rider Cort Scheer, another Panhandle State rodeo team alumnus.
â€śWeâ€™re very proud of the cowboys and cowgirls that are from here and look forward to seeing them every year when they come back for our rodeo,â€ť Quimby said. â€śTo me, it shows everyone that we have some of the best cowboys in the world from right here.â€ť
BRIDGEPORT, Texas â€“ Commitment to the community is the key reason several locals are part of the volunteers who orchestrate the Bridgeport rodeo.
â€śWith Butterfield Stage Days, we try to draw some people from all walks of life to come and see what all we have to offer,â€ť said Katherine Hudson, now in her 20th year as one of the volunteers for the Karl Klement Butterfield Stage Days Rodeo set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 8, and Saturday, May 9, at Sunset Retreat Arena, formerly the Bridgeport Riding Club Arena.
â€śWith the rodeo and the festival, we want to have enough to do to attract not just those who are in the rodeo, but the people who follow the rodeo. We have something for them to do during the day time.â€ť
The rodeo will feature a brilliant mix of true athleticism and family entertainment, showcased by the brightest stars in professional rodeo. That includes the likelihood of Wise County world champions like Trevor Brazile and his brother-in-law, Tuf Cooper, both of whom brought more gold buckles home to north Texas in 2014.
But thereâ€™s so much more to the rodeo than the incredible competition; for the first time in the eventâ€™s history, highly decorated entertainer Troy â€śThe Wild Childâ€ť Lerwill will showcase his talents and brand of comedy for the Bridgeport crowd.
â€śYou learn something new every year, and you learn things you can do to make it better,â€ť said David Turnbow, chairman of the volunteer committee. â€śWe want to bring in things that will interest the crowd and try to get the whole community out there.â€ť
When competition and entertainment are combined, it makes for quite an entertaining two days.
â€śI enjoy putting on something in a small city that brings out a wide variety of people that like to watch but donâ€™t go anywhere else to watch,â€ť Hudson said. â€śThey have a chance at watching a professional cowboy that they might not have seen.â€ť
The local rodeo typically features regular qualifiers to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Take the 2014 event, for example: Three-time world champion Will Lowe won the bareback riding title in Bridgeport, while Brazile â€“ who owns a ProRodeo record 21 world titles â€“ won the all-around crown. Other winners included National Finals qualifiers like saddle bronc rider Jacobs Crawley and steer roper Chet Herren.
â€śOur rodeo and the festival downtown are pretty darn huge for the community,â€ť Turnbow said. â€śJust the tax dollars that this thing brings in is incredible, with people staying in hotels, eating in the local restaurants and stopping at our fuel stations.
â€śI think the rodeo and the festival goes hand in hand very well and does some great things for our community.â€ť
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