Some of my favorite athletes — the cowboys who compete in the PRCA — are gathering in Las Vegas for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
The annual awards banquet is tonight and Silverdale’s Randy Corley, the voice of the Kitsap Stampede, is up for announcer of the year. He’s an 11-time winner. Haley Schneeberger, a familiar face at the Kitsap Stampede, is up for rodeo secretary of the year. Corley, in case you missed it, is also being inducted into the Kitsap Sports Hall of Fame on Jan. 25 at Kiana Lodge in Poulsbo.
I’ve been to the NFR three times — first in the early 1990s when Silverdale’s Clint Corey was challenging for a world title in bareback and twice when the Kitsap Stampede was nominated for Pro Rodeo of the Year. Corey is a Hall of Famer who now serves as supervisor of officials for the PRCA.
If you’re a rodeo fan, you need to put this event on your bucket list. The cowboys and livestock are the best in their game, and the cowboys are among the most approachable athletes in professional sports. There’s a pretty good chance that you’ll bump into your favorites in Vegas.
I just took a quick look at the 2013 Kitsap Stampede results and some of the cowboys you watched compete at Thunderbird Stadium in late August qualified for the NFR. Cheney’s Ryan Gray, who won the Stampede’s bareback title, goes into the finals as the No. 4-ranked rider. Dakota Eldridge, who was second in steer wrestling at the Stampede, slipped in to the NFR at the No. 15 spot. Only the top 15 make it, but once you get there the money is so good that it’s possible to go from No. 15 to No. 1 over the 10-day rodeo.
The top three saddle bronc riders at the Stampede — Jacobs Crawley, Sterling Crawley and Taos Muncey — enter the NFR ranked Nos. 5, 15 and 11, respectively.
Bull rider Cooper Davis, second at the Stampede, is No. 7 in the world rankings going into Thursday’s first round at Thomas & Mack Center.
And then there’s Trevor Brazille, the Texan who’s No. 1 in the all-around with $255,187 already in his pocket. Brazille, going for a record 19th world championship, placed fourth at the Kitsap Stampede in the tie-down roping event.
All rounds are broadcast by the Great American Country network at 7 p.m. and re-aired the following day at 10 a.m. and 3 a.m.
For your rodeo information, go to prorodeo.com.
Other storylines for the NFR, coursey the PRCA:
- Bobby Mote has the lead in the bareback riding world standings and will be trying for a record-tying fifth gold buckle against a field that includes two-time defending World Champion Kaycee Feild and three-time World Champion Will Lowe. That trio has accounted for nine of the last 11 titles.
- Casey Martin is the only one of the contestants on top of the world standings entering the WNFR who has not won a gold buckle previously. He showed his readiness last year when he finished second in the WNFR steer wrestling average and second in the world. This season he”s led the world standings every week but one since January.
- Team roping header Chad Masters was injured early in the year and is the only 2012 champion who cannot defend his title in Las Vegas. Masters” partner during the part section of 2013, reigning heeling world champion Jade Corkill, hooked up with 2005 World Champion Clay Tryan and just kept on rolling. Tryan and Corkill arrive at the Thomas & Mack Center on top of the standings in an extremely tight battle with Kaleb Driggers and Travis Graves.
- Cody Wright”s first gold buckle in 2008 was chronicled by a group of documentary filmmakers and his brother, Jesse”s, first world title a year ago was filmed by the same crew for a revised edition of the film. This time it will be Cody, Jesse and Jesse”s twin brother, Jake – they are 1, 2 and 7 in the world standings – all going after it. The New York Times is sending a reporter to follow the family drama.
- Two-time defending champion Tuf Cooper has the largest lead in any of the individual events (more than $37,000 over Tyson Durfey) as he tries to become the first tie-down roper to win three consecutive world championships since his ProRodeo Hall of Fame dad, Roy, won five in a row from 1980-84.
- Bull rider J.W. Harris is highly motivated to end his string of near misses – he finished just $1,056 behind fellow Texan Cody Teel last year and was second to Shane Proctor in 2011 – at two and get back to his accustomed spot at the top. Harris won world championships every year from 2008-10 and leads the field by more than $30,000 entering this Wrangler NFR.