Laci Demers doesn’t have a lot of free time on her hands these days.
As the promoter for both the Bareback Bronc Riding and Saddle Bronc Riding events of the Junior National Finals Rodeo, Demers will be overseeing more than 200 competitors at the annual rodeo. This year’s Junior NFR takes place Dec. 6-15 at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena located inside the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“This is our busiest year yet,” Demers said. “I think word has gotten out. I think people have been educated to what (the Junior NFR) is and are very excited to get their kids involved.
“This year we actually added a 15- to 17-year-old age group, so we have seen a lot of the kids themselves show interest. I think it has just opened up the floodgates.”
The addition of the 15-17 age group not only adds about 50 more contestants to last year’s numbers, but it presents other challenges as well.
“We have had to really work with the pick-up men because they’re going from just picking up the miniature horses and ponies to full-size horses,” she said. “Luckily, we have very competent and capable pick-up men that were able to step up and move forward with this.
“But just having the bigger stock requires us to have more equipment. And the judges have to judge big guys again. So it’s opened a lot of doors and I think it’s really going to open the chutes of the future for a lot of associations.”
And preparing the contestants, who will range from ages 6 to 17, for a future in rodeo is one of the things Demers takes a lot of pride in.
“We’re giving these kids a stepping-stone approach to the high school finals, the PRCA, the college and amateur levels,” she said. “I think that’s one thing that is really going to start shining now.”
Now that the Junior NFR has gained a foothold in the Las Vegas sports landscape, Demers and other promoters have been able to bring parents into the fold as volunteers. Not only will that be the case next week in Las Vegas, but the volunteers also helped out throughout the season during local qualifiers.
“We were actually able to take parents and put them in positions of responsibility where they are able to answer questions from newbies,” Demers said. “We weren’t able to do that in the past because it was new for everyone. And it has allowed us to open our avenues up to more stock contractors, which means there are more people in each region helping these kids.
“We have people like Kirby Cannon. Not only is he working with the contestants but he’s working with the parents and trying to educate them. When you have people who not only volunteer to help but also show up, those are our true rock stars.”
Another area where Demers has seen a lot of growth this year goes beyond just having additional contestants. Demers and other promoters are finding out that not all of the contestants have traditional rodeo backgrounds, which produces a whole new set of challenges.
“For the kids who come from a rodeo background or a ranch family the transition is rather smooth,” Demers said. “But we now have kids who are taking an interest to bareback and saddle bronc riding at a young age and their parents may or may not have a rodeo background. And when you have a parent who has a kid who is showing interest for the first time they’re going to do everything they can to properly invest in their career.
“But that forces the association to step up again because we now have to train these parents while we’re also trying to provide safety resources and knowledge for the kids themselves. Sometimes we spend just as much time on chute procedures with parents as we do with the kids. But that pays off because we’re now making that transition to the parents and the kids.
“Just being ambassadors for the future of rodeo is kind of our key thing.”