Jr. Rodeo heats up with Jr. NFR set for March

By JOLEE JORDAN


Colorado Springs, Colo. — Pairing young athletes alongside seasoned pros to learn the ropes is a rare opportunity in most sports, but not in ProRodeo thanks to the newly-formed Jr. Rodeo program.

Youth rodeo organizations have served as the sport’s introductory level for participants for many years — their start down the road toward a possible future ProRodeo career.

In the past, that road has often been windy, bumpy, and difficult to navigate but the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s (PRCA) new Jr. Rodeo initiative seeks to turn that road into a superhighway for those athletes who hope to one day turn pro.

Announced in December 2019 during the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (Wrangler NFR), Jr. Rodeo will strive to better prepare young cowboys and cowgirls for an eventual career in the sport by focusing on three key pillars in their foundation: education, skill development and competition.

Designers of the Jr. Rodeo program hope it addresses recognized needs for the PRCA, namely a shrinking membership, and for its up-and-coming stars in their development into pro-caliber contestants.

“We asked, where is our feeder system in the sport of rodeo and how can we help figure out a way to get involved and start creating relationships with those future contestants and showing them that pathway to become a ProRodeo contestant,” said Anthony Bartkowski, PRCA Director of Athlete Development and Welfare.

“That’s the genesis of developing this youth initiative called Jr. Rodeo, which extends our athlete pipeline down to a very young age.”

Jr. Rodeo will serve competitors from 8-19 years of age, offering four levels of membership, all of which offer free attendance to Jr. Rodeo camps and schools, a unique chance for kids to learn from ProRodeo’s champions in a one-on-one environment.

Picture learning the proper technique involved in throwing a football from Patrick Mahomes. But Jr. Rodeo hopes to extend the education it’s offering beyond how to throw a proper heel loop or mark out a bareback horse and include more aspects of the business side of the sport.

“We’re going to be teaching these younger contestants what PRCA rodeos are like now, get them trained to understand what the process is — how you enter rodeos, what rules do you follow so that there’s a lot of mirroring of what we’re doing here so when they do decide to take that next step, they already are well informed.”

In the meantime, youth competitors can measure their skills against their peers in the Cowboy Channel Jr. NFR to be held March 3-7 at historic Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth and AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, fulfilling the third pillar of the Jr. Rodeo platform: competition.

“We asked how do we distinguish ourselves and embrace the whole universe of youth rodeo,” Bartkowski said. “So, we developed the Jr. NFR concept and the Cowboy Channel has come on board as the title sponsor.”

“It was a way to unify all the youth associations that are out there and have a long, rich tradition and history behind them,” added Bartkowski. “We’ve identified it as a way to include their top performers and allow them to come to the Jr. NFR so we can showcase the best of the best that rodeo has to offer.”

Those invited contenders advance directly to the Jr. NFR semifinals where they will square off against the top 15 qualifiers from the preliminary rounds.

The top six competitors in the semifinals will advance to the Championship Round at AT&T Stadium. That round is held in conjunction with RFD-TV’s The American, giving Jr. NFR finalists the chance to compete alongside the best in ProRodeo in a one-of-a-kind competitive environment.

Jr. NFR contestants will be competing for a share of the more than a $200,000 purse. The winners in the nine disciplines —bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, tie down roping, steer wrestling, team roping, girls barrel racing, and girls breakaway roping — will take home $10,000 along with some fancy prizes. Additionally, winners in the timed events will advance to the semifinals of The American and compete for a share of its $1 million payout.

All action will be aired on the Cowboy Channel making the Jr. NFR the only youth rodeo event on cable television in 2020.

For this year, the Jr. NFR is open to high school competitors, 14-19 years old, but future events will include younger participants.

“This is our first offering,” Bartkowski said. “We are focusing on the high school-aged contestant first. We want to make sure that we come out and present an event that is good and reaches our goals and our vision to showcase the top competitors who are going to be graduating next into the PRCA.”

Beyond the first Jr. NFR next month, Jr. Rodeo will work with major youth organizations as well as with PRCA rodeo committees for future Jr. NFR qualifying events in a year-long commitment to increased competitive opportunities.

“We conducted a survey with all the PRCA rodeos (after announcing the Jr. Rodeo initiative),” Bartkowski said. “And, 83% want to host a Jr. Rodeo event or do something for youth participation in the sport so that just opens up our universe that much larger.”

Memberships are available at www.jrrodeo.org and are required to participate in the Jr. NFR and other Jr. Rodeo events throughout the year.


Madison Outhier looks to win the Cowboy Channel Jr. NFR and defend American title.

By JOLEE JORDEN

Photo of Madison Outhier winning the American Rodeo 2019


A year ago, Madison Outhier couldn’t decide whether she wanted to become a professional polo player or chase a career in ProRodeo.

But on March 3, 2019, the Fulshear (Texas) High School student beat a seasoned and talented final-four field to become the first breakaway roping champion at RFD-TV’s The American, earning $110,000.

“A year ago, it was a hard decision,” said Outhier, who got her passion for polo from her mother, Kristy, who played professionally until about a year ago. “But I’m definitely more involved, more focused on rodeo now.”

Rodeo is in the now-17-year-old cowgirl’s genes too: her father, Mike, is a veteran of four Wrangler National Finals Rodeos and a two-time PRCA Linderman Award winner.

She gives her dad credit for her rodeo career.

“It’s all my dad,” she said, adding that the pair practice daily. “He trains all my roping horses.”

In 2019, Outhier competed in both the junior and open divisions during the qualification rounds for The American.

“It was all one week last year (the semifinals and The American), and the entire week was the craziest and best of my whole life,” she laughed.

After roping in two preliminary rounds, Outhier competed in the first performance of the semifinals on Wednesday, Feb. 27, and was sitting fifth with 16 set to advance. She then went to work during the junior portion of the competition.

“I was playing the waiting game on whether I’d advance (in the open), so I knew I needed to do well in the juniors and give myself another shot to make it,” she said.

Roping sharp on every pressure-packed run, Outhier battled through getting sick toward the end of the week to earn a spot at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of The American, where a 2.29-second run in the Shoot-Out Round clinched the title for both divisions.

“My dad rodeoed a long time and I’ve gone with him, so I’ve seen big rodeo stadiums …  but it was so unreal to walk in there and have the opportunity to compete,” she said. “I’m so fortunate. It was the best experience of my life.”

In 2020, the junior events during The American have been aligned with the PRCA’s new Jr. Rodeo initiative, including the debut of the Jr. National Finals Rodeo, title sponsored by The Cowboy Channel. As the reigning champion, Outhier has earned a bye into the semifinals.

“It’s so awesome that the PRCA is getting involved in junior rodeo,” said Outhier, who plans to study business in college after she graduates high school in 2021. “We all strive to grow up and go on to ProRodeo, and it’s great that they’re offering this platform for youth competitors.

“I would never have been able to win at The American without junior rodeo – being able to learn to work through the nerves. The Jr. Rodeo program is just going to make rodeo bigger and better.”


Photo of Mike Outhier at the 2002 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo

PRCA Announces Launch of Jr. Rodeo Association and The Cowboy Channel Jr. NFR

LAS VEGAS, Nev. – The PRCA is proud to announce today the introduction of the Jr. Rodeo Association to provide youth, ages 8-19, an opportunity to learn and participate in core rodeo events. The Jr. National Finals Rodeo, title sponsored by The Cowboy Channel, will make its debut March 3-7 in Texas at Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth with the finals to be held on March 7 at AT&T Stadium, in Arlington, Texas.

Jr. Rodeo, the new youth initiative for the PRCA, is created to identify the next generation of contestants through education, fundamental development and a one-of-a-kind competition series. The online membership portal opens today, and youth may join by visiting www.jrrodeo.org. The first 1,000 Jr. Rodeo members to join will receive a gift card from National Roper’s Supply.

“The Jr. Rodeo initiative is important for the future growth of rodeo, and it is important for us to develop the future stars properly,” PRCA CEO George Taylor said. “Our new association is fundamentally built to embrace and grow youth participation in rodeo events. All rodeo starts here, and Jr. Rodeo is responsible for providing opportunities for kids to learn, improve and compete alongside the best cowboys in the best arenas like AT&T Stadium.”

Members will be able to select a membership level that best suits their interest. Jr. Rodeo members will have a number of benefits available that include: membership card; competition opportunities; secondary accident insurance; free registration for Jr. Rodeo Camps; ProRodeo Sports News online subscription; and more.

“We are excited about the new venture the PRCA is launching to further grow and educate youth rodeo,” Las Vegas Events President Pat Christenson said. “This new Jr. Rodeo initiative is another investment in the future of rodeo.”

The Cowboy Channel Jr. NFR returns in 2020 and will feature the best-of-the-best contestants from the major youth rodeo events. Jr. Rodeo will feature the Junior American and Patriot events as one of the major qualification pathways. The Junior American and all of its qualifiers are being folded into The Cowboy Channel Jr. NFR, effective immediately. Jr. Rodeo will continue to attract other youth rodeo events as potential qualifiers.

For 2020, The Cowboy Channel Jr. NFR includes over 1,900 contestants eligible for a gold buckle. The top place winners from the events below also qualify in 2020 for The Cowboy Channel Jr. NFR and must be Jr. Rodeo members.

  • 2019 National High School Rodeo Association Finals
  • 2019 Little Britches Rodeo Association Finals
  • 2019 International Youth Finals Rodeo
  • 2019 Junior World Finals
  • 2019 Junior American

“The National High School Rodeo Association has taken several initiatives to offer opportunities to our members,” NHSRA Executive Director James Higginbotham said. “Opportunities that not only build good citizens but also enable them to enhance and further their rodeo experience, if they choose to. This is another one of those opportunities offered by the PRCA, a long-time supporter of the NHSRA.”

The Cowboy Channel Jr. NFR will guarantee at least $200,000 in added money. Jr. Rodeo’s focus is on core rodeo events and will feature bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, team roping (header/heeler), girl’s breakaway roping and girl’s barrel racing.

Jr. Rodeo’s focus is on core rodeo events and will feature bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, team roping (header/heeler), girl’s breakaway roping and girl’s barrel racing.

“The launch of Jr. Rodeo and the Jr. NFR is an excellent opportunity for all of youth rodeo to come together,” Little Britches Rodeo Association Executive Director Annie Walter said. “Anytime where we can include Little Britches contestants is a tremendous benefit to growing the sport of rodeo as a whole. We have to work together to increase participation in rodeo at all levels and there is no better place to start than with youth contestants.”

The Cowboy Channel will provide a year-long national television platform in support of Jr. Rodeo. The Cowboy Channel Jr. NFR is the only youth rodeo event on cable TV in 2020 and will be telecast exclusively on The Cowboy Channel which reaches 42 million homes.

“We are so proud to join forces with the PRCA to expand and grow the opportunities and exposure for youth rodeo,” said Patrick Gottsch, Founder and President of The Cowboy Channel. “We are all in. Encouraging more young people and their families to participate and enjoy the sport of rodeo is a win for everyone. The Cowboy Chanel is here to promote, cover, and support the Jr. NFR all year long.”

“We are so proud to join forces with the PRCA to expand and grow the opportunities and exposure for youth rodeo,” said Patrick Gottsch, Founder and President of The Cowboy Channel. “We are all in. Encouraging more young people and their families to participate and enjoy the sport of rodeo is a win for everyone. The Cowboy Chanel is here to promote, cover, and support the Jr. NFR all year long.”

The Cowboy Channel Jr. NFR is a tournament-style format rodeo where qualifiers will compete in the long go-round with the top 15 contestants advancing to the semifinals. The championship round will be held at AT&T Stadium with the top 6 place winners competing prior to RFD-TV’s The American. The winners in the timed events also advance to RFD-TV’s The American Semi-Finals for a chance to win $1 million. The Jr. NFR will feature contestants between the ages of 14-19 who must still be in high school.

“The Cowboy Channel Jr. NFR is the showcase event for all of youth rodeo,” said Anthony Bartkowski, PRCA Director of Athlete Development and Welfare. “We are proud to partner with The Cowboy Channel in hosting The Cowboy Channel Jr. NFR in one of the best sport stadiums. This participant experience and being able to compete alongside the best cowboys in the world is unrivaled.”

Jr. Rodeo will continue to provide the popular Jr. Rodeo Camps program to members who are interested in learning about rodeo and further advancing their rodeo event techniques. National Finals Rodeo qualifiers typically serve as instructors at Jr. Rodeo Camps. The Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo will host the first 2020 Jr. Rodeo Camp on January 26.

“The future of the cowboy culture relies solely on our ability to teach our youth the ways of our cowboy heroes,” said Cal White, Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo Assistant Operations Manager. “With the assistance of the PRCA and their Jr. Rodeo Camps, our youth have the best opportunities in the history of our sport to learn how to be champions from champions. Now more than ever, we have to remain diligent in utilizing these avenues to attract and retain our future contestants.”

Throughout 2020, Jr. Rodeo will work with individual PRCA Rodeos to showcase the sport to future cowboys and have an impact in identifying the next world champions. PRCA Rodeos will be able to qualify contestants directly from its rodeos for the 2021 The Cowboy Channel Jr. National Finals Rodeo.


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