Benny Beutler walking chutes waiting for the
rodeo to start at the Woodward Elks Rodeo in
Woodward, OK. Photo by Annie Jo Gilbert of
Roan Pony Productions.
“It is quite the elite group of kids that compete here,” Goedert
explained. “For me, it is an opportunity to for these kids to get
ready for the next level of performance and spur them into the
dedication they need to succeed.”
From behind the microphone in the announcers stand, Goedert
gets the inside scoop on the names to watch for the future.
Partnered with Andy Seiler from A Cross Production, the duo will
announce the JNFR for the second year together in 2018.
“Last year we had right around 600 contestants, with the biggest
group in the barrels at 120,” Seiler said. “The qualifications are a
little different for each event or regional director, but they do all
have qualifying events they have to go to.”
As a previous competitor on the national stage at the high
school and college national finals, Seiler highlights the value of
the experience kids gain as they pursue their NFR dreams.
“It is neat to watch them mature, really right before your eyes,”
Seiler said. “This is the biggest stage they have ever won or lost
on before stepping into the world of professional rodeo.”
Competing alongside these fierce juniors on the road to Vegas,
professionals have commented time and time again on how
serious they are about their events.
“My favorite part of this road is being able to interact with
young people and see the passion they have for the sport,”
Seiler explained. “It is refreshing to see how much they care
about what they are doing and their competitive spirit. It is
inspiring that these kids want to be part of the sport and to
watch it grow as a direct result of that.”
THE ROAD TO QUALIFYING
Qualifying for the JNFR is no easy feat. Much like their older
counterparts, the contestants compete at sanctioned rodeos.
As the JNFR grows in popularity, so does the stage.
More than 240 horses alone will make their way to Vegas for
the juniors to ride this year. The number of contestants will
more than double in size this year.
“As the central regional directors for the JNFR, we put on
rodeos from Wisconsin to Texas and everything in between,”
said Jeff Louderback, three-year stock contractor for the rough
stock events at the JNFR. “Some of them are direct qualifiers for
the regional finals.”
The driving force behind the explosive growth of the JNFR is the
PRCA. With fewer saddle bronc and bareback riders, the push is
to give the next generation incentives to try the events out.
“The competition is strong, we have kids competing now who
will be in the NFR in just a few years,” Louderback said. “It has
just gotten better and better every year.”
Riding at rodeos as big as the Days of 47, the road is tough and
full of uncertainty for the juniors, the same as it is for the
professionals. However, a big draw for everyone is the payout,
the glory and the right to be called a World Champion. None of
championship performance. The last five days are for the timed
events. Spectators can watch the first performances of both the
rough stock and timed events for free. However, for a small fee,
spectators can watch juniors be crowned world champions.
“One hundred percent of the proceeds from the championship
round go right back to the kids,” Goedert said. “For Pat
Christensen and Bo, this is not a for-profit deal that they are
capitalizing on. They are 100% behind the next generation of
rodeo, it is for the kids and parents.”
Held on the second floor of the convention center, the logistics
of the JNFR are truly a work of art. Dwayne Laduke, the man
at the wheel, has heaps of experience that make the whole
second-floor movement of cattle, horses and kids run smoothly.
Lit up like the real thing, the JNFR has the jumbotron, a packed
stadium, everything the older generation has. The goal is to
showcase the generation of rodeo super stars.
Rodeo LIFE 126