Last year was a learning experience for Ote Berry.
The former world champion steer wrestler and ProRodeo Hall of Fame member has experienced about all there is to experience in the rodeo arena. Last year, however, Berry got to see things from a different perspective.
As the event programmer for the steer wrestling competition at the Junior National Finals Rodeo presented by YETI, Berry was in on the ground floor as bulldogging made its Junior NFR debut in Las Vegas.
“Last year it was all brand new and I didn’t really know what to expect,” Berry said recently. “I can’t take the credit, because I had a great crew helping me last year at the finals, but everybody made it run smooth. If you’ve got a quality crew behind you it’s kind of a reflection on me.
“And I can stick my chest out because I had a great bunch of people behind the scenes. Ultimately, it had my name on it so it made me look good.”
Berry said last year’s steer wrestling event had a $50,000 payout and gave away more than $33,000 in college scholarships.
He expects to surpass those totals this year when the Junior NFR takes place Dec. 6-15 at the Wrangler Arena inside the Las Vegas Convention Center. The steer wrestling competition begins Tuesday, Dec. 11, with the finals slated for Saturday, Dec. 15.
“Last year my main concern was getting everything done in the one-hour time limit and we got done that first day in 26-28 minutes,” Berry said. “After the first day we relaxed and then by the last day we were able to take our time. That’s why I was able to take a few more kids this year and give them an opportunity.”
Fifty-two bulldoggers competed in last year’s event – the top 50 from qualifiers plus the top two finishers in the average at the International Finals Youth Rodeo. That number has increased to 60 this year for a variety of reasons, two in particular.
“Because things ran so smooth last year I felt like we could give more kids a chance to compete,” Berry said. “And last year I had 12 qualifiers and this year I had 19. And I think we averaged about 30 kids at each qualifier, which is a pretty good turnout. We had jackpots from Utah to Tennessee as well as at the IFYR (in Shawnee, Oklahoma) and at the National High School Finals (in Rock Springs, Wyoming) and we got quite a bit of positive feedback.
“I feel like we had a lot of success with the qualifiers; we just now need to continue to branch out.”
Berry is already looking at holding future qualifiers in both California and Florida. As for this year’s competitors, Ryan Nettle of Brenham, Texas, was the top qualifier, followed by brothers Gavin and Grant Soileau of Bunkie, Louisiana. The 60 bulldoggers at the Junior NFR hail from 17 different states.
And once again they’ll have opportunities to win money, prizes and colleges scholarships.
“All this happens because of our sponsors,” Berry said. “Last year I reached out to some of the colleges and they helped me with some financial support. So I tried to help them by giving them some good quality kids to go to their schools for steer wrestling.
“If they help me I try to help them. And I think for the most part they were pretty well satisfied. And, gosh, what an opportunity for these kids if they’re on the fence about going to school.”
And even though the 2018 Junior NFR is still weeks away, Berry has already started thinking about next year’s event.
“It’s a deal where you don’t want to mess with success,” he said, “but at the same time you don’t want to be stuck in a rut. So we’re going to be trying new things as far as qualifying and a different point system.
“I don’t want it to get stale. I want it to keep growing.”