Teen competitors hoped to rope, ride and buck their way toward victory Saturday in the Challenge of Champions at the Amador County Fairgrounds.
The statewide high school rodeo competition, which ends Sunday with the final competition and an awards ceremony, features 13 events – six for girls, six for boys and one co-ed competition. The event started Friday with nearly 200 competitors. The field was narrowed Saturday, and 130 first- through fifth-place winners were to receive handcrafted, horse-related prizes Sunday.
In June, many of the students will compete at the California High School State Finals, where the top four contestants in each event go on to the nationals. The Challenge rodeo doesn’t count toward the final point tally, so many of the young rodeo champs competed in the event just for fun.
But the competition also teaches them about life, said Craig Williams, the event’s main organizer.
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“It teaches them that a lot of (winning) is a luck of the draw, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to be a winner all the time; how to deal with disappointment,” he said. “And how to be a gracious winner.”
The fairgrounds, in Plymouth, was packed with RVs and horse trailers on Friday. Many of the teen competitors wearing cowboy hats roamed the fairgrounds on horseback, waiting for their chance to compete. Friday afternoon, Lily Tillery, 17, of Visalia walked her horse, Teamo, out of the arena after placing third in the girls’ cutting competition, an event where a rider on horseback has to steer a calf away from a herd.
Tillery is a returning champion; she won a national and world title last year at the National High School Finals Rodeo in polebending, an agility race event. She fit the Challenge in around a Sadie Hawkins dance Friday evening at her high school, Redwood High School.
Since she’s one of the only rodeo competitors in the school, she said many of her friends don’t really get rodeo culture.
“I have a huge rodeo family, so it was just something I was kind of born into,” Tillery said. Like many contestants, Tillery has been competing in rodeos since she was old enough for the junior rodeos in sixth grade.
One of her cousins is also competing in the Challenge this weekend and her mother, grandmother and uncle were on hand to watch their performances.
“The key to it all is to have all the family here,” said her uncle, Pete Holman. “It takes an army to come to one of these things. But we do it week in and week out.”
Andee Poole, of Clovis, competing from District 6, said she needs the support of her family to be able to compete.
“It takes a lot of work, and working together as a family, to get here,” she said. Poole, 15, attends a charter school and is partially home-schooled to clear her schedule enough to both practice for rodeos and keep up the family ranch. She said she practices every day.
Casey White, whose daughter Brooke competed against Tillery, said rodeos are a family affair for the Whites, as well.
“I rodeoed, my husband rodeoed and actually my dad rodeoed, so she kind of comes from a family of people who rodeo, it’s just our way of life,” White said.
White said she attends rodeos and cutting events with her daughter almost every weekend. White said her older daughter competed in rodeos from junior high through college.
White, who also is from District 6, said she thinks her children learn important lessons from the time spent in the arena.
“They get to learn to work under pressure,” she said. “They have to learn to get the most out of themselves.”
Call The Bee’s Ellen Garrison at (916) 321-1006
Challenge of Champions
Amador County Fairgrounds, Plymouth
Rodeo admission: $10
Sunday: Competition 11 a.m. - 3 p.m.; awards presentation follows