The Junior National Finals Rodeo presented by YETI will take place Dec. 7-16 at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena located inside the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
And as successful as last year’s inaugural event was, this year’s Junior NFR promises to be bigger and better.
Not only will the Junior NFR be held the same days as the Wrangler NFR, but it will involve more events and almost 200 more contestants.
“We added two events this year and we went from six days to 10 days,” said Bo Gardner, Vice President – Corporate Sponsorship at Las Vegas Events. “Last year we had 342 kids qualify for the Junior NFR. This year we’re going to touch over 5,000 kids in 35 states and three countries to qualify 524 kids.”
The new events at this year’s event are Junior Steer Wrestling and Mini Saddle Bronc Riding. Those two are in addition to Junior Bull Riding, Mini Bareback Riding, Junior Barrel Racing, Total Team Roping, Tie-Down Roping and Breakaway Roping.
“And each event has a different variation of age groups,” Gardner said. “We just wanted to give these kids the opportunity to get involved, just as they would with any other sport in high school or junior high. This gives them something to look forward to.
“We replicate the same events that are at the NFR, in addition to breakaway roping.”
Lacie Demers serves as the programmer for both the Mini Saddle Bronc and Mini Bareback events. Originally, she was responsible for just the Mini Saddle Bronc, but took over the reins of the Mini Bareback operations from Kirby Cannon.
“We merged the two this summer, which makes things easier for the kids and in a managerial aspect,” she said. “Last year was a starter year for the mini saddle bronc world championship. So we didn’t go to Vegas last year just because we weren’t sure we were going to have enough kids. But we had an abundance of kids, and once we saw that we said, ‘Let’s get this to Vegas next year.’”
Demers expects to have 150 kids competing in the two events – three divisions in each event with contestants ranging from 6 to 14 years of age – at this year’s Junior NFR.
But that’s just a portion of the kids who will compete in the qualifiers that determine who will make it to Vegas.
“In mini bareback and mini saddle bronc alone we have over 600 kids between the ages of 6 and 14 competing in the U.S. and Canada,” Demers said. “That’s a lot of kids.”
It all translates to a lot of parents and family members who will be making the trip to Vegas this December to be part of Cowboy Christmas. The growth in the number of contestants, at the Junior NFR and that compete in the qualifiers across the country, has taken Gardner by surprise.
“We are ecstatic,” he said. “From the day we went and sat and talked with the (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association) PRCA commissioner (Karl Stressman) about the concept and the idea and coordinating the event to where we are now is unbelievable.
“We wanted to take baby steps. We wanted to make sure that what we were doing we were doing it right so it would take us into the future. We wanted to make sure we were giving the sponsors and the kids in the events the best opportunity.”
This year’s Junior NFR has added other touches to closer resemble PRCA rodeos.
Andy Seiler, who has announced at RodeoHouston, the College National Finals Rodeo and numerous other PRCA and college rodeos, will join Steve Goedert to call the action.
“Having two announcers will give the event more of a dialog and more of an education for the fans,” Gardner said. “It will be a lot like a professional rodeo and it will mean more recognition for the kids and how they got there.”
“And A3 Merchandise, which is the official merchandise of the NFR, has created a line of Junior NFR merchandise that will appeal to kids. They will have an exhibit upstairs next to the Wrangler Rodeo Arena at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
It’s no coincidence the Junior NFR is taking place in conjunction with the Wrangler NFR.
“We thought about calling (the Junior NFR) something different,” Gardner said. “We could have just ran with it on our own, but for the kids and for the parents the appeal of having the letters N-F-R in it meant so much more.”