By Speed Williams
What an amazing opportunity for cowboys and cowgirls in all disciplines. It’s nice not to have to rodeo all year trying to make the finals. I can’t say the American Rodeo hasn’t had its share of growing pains and format changes. Sometimes when you’re trying to make things better, it can be a struggle to find what works and what doesn’t. Below is a breakdown of the qualifying process.
This year there are three regions in the American qualifying system, East (Lexington, KY), Central (Tulsa, OK), and West (Heber, UT). Initially there are 54 qualifying events where contestants compete for the opportunity to advance to the Regional Semi-Finals.
The Regional Semi-Finals vets up to 100 qualifiers across 8 disciplines against automatically seeded athletes from the 2022 PRCA/WPRA word standings. Seeded and unseeded compete for the opportunity to advance to the Regional Finals.
The Regional Finals (Friday night perf) includes the Top 10 finishers in the Semi-Finals + two athletes who earned their spots via a Redemption Round.
The Wild Card event (March 8th) offers qualifying athletes one last chance at earning a spot in the finals. The Wild Card event brings together the 30 athletes from each Semi-Final, the 8 from each Regional Final, and the 4 from each Regional Redemption Round. The top performer in each discipline advances to the Finals.
The Finals (March 9th) vets the Top 4 athletes from each Regional Finals with the Wild Card winner. All vying for a chance to compete at The American Rodeo and win the $1 million bonus.
Each discipline has their own rules and qualifying system. In the Breakaway, Hali could qualify in each region twice. They run two head and the top ten come back to the Regional Finals final performance and then the top four move on to the finals in March. She went to the Central Region qualifier in Tulsa first. Out of 100 entries, she won 1st and 3rd and made it back to the top 10 twice. In years past you’ve been able to take two runs to the semi-finals to try and qualify for the American. The Tulsa Regional was going on the same time as the Ft. Worth rodeo and Hali and Jennifer were driving back and forth every day. On their way back to Ft. Worth for the finals on Saturday night, they got a call and were told that she was losing one of the qualifying spots she earned at Tulsa, and she would only have one run coming back on Sunday.
Though this was done in all disciplines, it really caught us off guard because we thought she had two chances to make it. As contestants, we don’t make or understand all the rules, nor are we always informed of rule changes. While grateful for the amazing opportunity, it was disappointing to find out Hali could only use one of her qualifying runs to try to advance when she already beat 100 girls to earn those two spots.
The only calf Hali missed that week was on Sunday, in Tulsa, to secure her spot in the American. The next Regional, the Eastern was the following weekend in Lexington, KY. Instead of the girls driving home, we agreed Gabe and I would meet them there. Gabe and I had qualified for that Regional and were scheduled to rope there.
At the Eastern Regional, Hali won 5th in the first round, then missed her second calf. On her second run, she won 2nd in the 2nd round. All she had to do was catch her calf in under 12 seconds. Her calf came out, went right, moved back to the left then slowed up, and she roped him around the eyes. That’s one of the difficulties in the Breakaway. The calves that have been roped quite a bit tend to change speed and direction. Out of 60-something girls, not very many caught two-head, even with a barrier.
In the Breakaway, they also have buy backs and for $1,000 you get one calf. Then the top two make it into the Regional Finals perf on Friday night. Lo and behold she drew the same calf she missed in the second round. This time the calf was slow and did not leave the chute well. She broke the barrier and was 2-flat plus ten. Her last chance to get into the American is what they call a Wild Card and is a one head. (See the description above). There she will rope against approximately 100 girls and the fastest run goes to the American. This is something I’m excited about because we get to work on throwing our rope super fast for the next couple of weeks.
One of Gabe’s goals is to qualify for the American rodeo. This summer we drove to Cleveland, TN and were fortunate to win an Open roping and earn a spot at the Regional Finals in Lexington. The Team Roping is done differently than the Breakaway. We could only go to one region. That’s fortunate for me because Gabe would have us at all three if he had a choice. There’s also no buy backs or wildcard round for the Team Roping. In other disciplines, 5th – 12th gets a last chance.
At the Regional Finals, 12 teams get to run one steer. The top four move on to the American. It’s a huge advantage to draw up toward the end so you know what you have to do. Gabe and I drew up 4th out. I’m thankful I was able to get out and hang it on one fast, but the steer fought his head and didn’t handle the best. Normally, Gabe would have taken another swing, but since 4.4 won last hole at the previous qualifier, he took a different shot and got a leg. We were 4.9 plus 5. When the 11th and 12th team roped, we were still sitting third. All the last two teams had to do was make a clean run to advance. Sadly, for us, they both did, and we were eliminated in 5th place. Had we drawn up a little better we would have taken a different approach to our steer.
I want to give a shout out to the American Rodeo for giving me the opportunity to rope with my son and be with my daughter while they compete at a high level. They did an interview with us about me giving lessons, teaching them, and using the Speed Trainer. Even though the rodeo didn’t go our way, it truly will be a memory that stays with me for a long time.
The American Rodeo is life changing when you can win $100,000 one day and possibly a share of $1 million. Our family will be trying to qualify again next year. I hope one day there will more rodeos like the American where everyone can have a chance to rope for that kind of money.