Not that they needed it, but team ropers and barrel racers at this year’s Junior National Finals Rodeo Presented by YETI will have added motivation.
That’s because the winners in each age group – 15 and under and 16-19 for team roping, and 11 and under and 12-16 for barrel racing will recieve an exemption in the semifinals of The American in February. The American, which will be held Feb 25 at AT&T Stadium (the home of the Dallas Cowboys) in Arlington, Texas, is the world’s richest one-day rodeo. The American, which began in 2014, is the brainchild of RFD-TV Chief Executive Officer Randy Bernard and owner/founder Patrick Gottsch.
The semifinals will be held in February in Fort Worth, Texas.
“I called Randy Bernard a while back about it,” said Bret Beach, who serves as the Junior NFR programmer for team roping. “And I just thought it would be a hell of an idea if you could get both winning teams to the semifinals at The American.
“This is going to be a big deal for these kids.”
The Junior NFR was already a big deal. This year, with added events and a chance for some winners to qualify for The American, the event promises to be even bigger.
Beach thought that might be the case.
“After last year, when I saw the excitement in it, I’m not surprised,” he said. “So this year I’m having qualifiers everywhere. We probably had 15 qualifiers east of the Mississippi (River).
“In the last few months the team roping competition has been exploding.”
And Beach believes things are only going to get better.
“This year I’ve put on these ropings so kids have to qualify like they would for the NFR,” he said. “I’m going to say we’ve had about 400 kids at these qualifiers. And that’s without anybody in California or out west because I couldn’t get anybody to the ropings out there. Now they’re starting to call me and say, ‘Hey! We want to be a part of this.’”
After all the qualifiers, 15 teams in each age group will move on to compete in the team roping at the Junior NFR on Dec. 7-16 in Las Vegas. Last year, without the qualifiers, Beach brought 15 teams total, including the top six teams from the International Finals Youth Rodeo and the top six teams the National High School Finals Rodeo, to the Junior NFR.
“Having this event there in Vegas is a gigantic thing,” Beach said. “This thing is going to be huge. There’s nothing else like it, just like there’s nothing like the NFR.”
Holding the qualifiers this year allowed Beach, a three-time NFR qualifier and the founder of Total Team Roping, more opportunities to reach out to the future of the sport.
“(The qualifiers) are just another opportunity to help the kids,” Beach said. “Unfortunately, a lot of these guys look at it and say, ‘I’m not going to make any money on that.’ And to me that’s the wrong way to look at it because that’s the next generation of ropers. Those are the kids you have to nurture and bring along.”
And in February, the kids who win the team roping (and the barrel racing) at the Junior NFR, will get a chance to compete alongside 2017 College National Finals Rodeo winners as well as their professional idols in The American qualifiers. Win that and they’ll be competing for a chance to win $1 million at The American.
According to Beach, RFD-TV deserves a tip of the cowboy hat for making that happen.