Junior Ropers, Start Training for the INFR Rodeo Championships
“Part of the reason I do this is I want to keep kids thinking they want to be a cowboy,” says Billie Bray of Classic Rope, coordinator of the Junior Roper Championships at the Indian National Finals Rodeo.
“If you step back and look at a couple of things that Indian kids do and do well--its shoot baskets and dummy roping. And that’s what makes this contest of skill for the youngsters work. All the pros we endorse, they all come and help run the championship. The whole thing is positive and it’s amazing to see how it can change these kids and inspire them to do the right thing. They get to see positives like the fact that a work ethic is necessary to become a winner.
“These kids need to win to progress to the next round. It’s amazing the fire and drive it produces--it opens a new world for them--and if they aren’t top prize winners, it makes them go home and work harder to come back the next year and be more competitive to earn the top prize.”
This will be the fifth year that Bray and her company have done more than just write a sponsorship check and hang their banner in the arena at Sout Ppoint Equestrian Center in Las Vegas. “I wanted to do more to help INFR grow rodeo activities for kids and families to relate to,” says the former Montana ranch roper.
Fellow Montanan and noted name in the rodeo world is Casey Cummins who was just three years old when he started swinging a rope. “Dummy roping is a good place to start,” he says. “It’s like practicing in any other sport -- you don’t just jump on a horse and start roping --- this helps improve form and accuracy and gives kids a competitive edge before they move on.”
Youngsters in three age groups will be hanging horns with both boys and girls competing in three age groups--6 and under, ages 7-9, and ages 10-12. The longer they keep catching (successfully roping) the Junior Looper steerheads, the longer they stay in the competition where the target keeps moving back further and further away from the ropers with each round.
“We’ll do rope-offs in the afternoon and winners get to perform during the rodeo finals, getting a chance to rope off against a pro on the arena floor surrounded by a crowd of several thousand fans,” says Bray. “Last year our top youngster beat a National Finals Rodeo qualifier.
“This is an important phase in the kids’ lives to be in contact with the Indian top ropers and INFR qualifiers. It gives them a chance to be with their own kind, to rope with them, and they’re good role models to emulate.”
Gallup, New Mexico-based Walt Eddy has been a part of junior roping for more than two decades. “We’re a hot spot for junior loopers because we have a couple of national level Navajo super stars (Derrick Begay and Eric Rodgers) on the nearby reservation. With the exception of Navajo golfer Notah Begay, Derrick and Eric are notable not only in their athletic ability, but for the fact that they still live on the reservation and you can bump into them at the local store. They’ve stayed with their roots.
“We don’t charge a penny to enter and we don’t rope for money,” Bray says. “We work with about 250 youngsters a year and our junior loopers are very competitive because the common denominator in these kids is that they’re all cowboys .
“The best thing kids get out of roping a dummy is that it gives them an activity to do with their parents. Through the years, I have no idea how many hours I’ve spent or how much enjoyment I’ve gotten roping a dummy in my barn with my son as he’s grown up. It’s a chance to bond, to hang out one-on-one and talk about anything and everything.
“Roping is like rural little league baseball for these kids who live 20-30 miles from town with no opportunity for organized sports. If they come from a rodeo family--they’ll have a dummy and a rope.”
The 38th Annual Indian National Finals Rodeo, including the Junior Roper Championships, will be held November 5-9 at the South Point Arena and Equestrian Center in Las Vegas. Contact Indian National Finals Rodeo at 406-338-7684 or Billie Bray at Classic Rope, 817-573-1884, for further information.