High school rodeo a huge draw
Some of the state’s best young ropers and riders converged upon the Lee County Sheriff’s Posse Arena this past weekend in an attempt to pile up points and get closer to state and national honors at the Florida High School Rodeo Association event.
Nearly 150 cowboys and cowgirls competed in 10 events over the weekend in two separate competitions in an event that has never taken place at the arena.
Paul Albert, president of the FHSRA and an Alva resident, said the organization has to follow the same rules as do other high school sports. The big difference is these kids are allowed to make money in their sport.
“You have to have at least a 2.0 GPA and we ask them to put in community service hours,” Albert said. “We allow jackpots in our rodeos. You can’t require it, but you can volunteer it. They can also go to a rodeo tonight and compete.”
Unlike pro rodeos, the boys and girls compete in a comparable number of events as the boys, and compete against and with the boys in team roping.
The boys ride bareback broncs, saddle broncs and bull ride, as well as rope calves and steer wrestle. The girls compete in goat tying, breakaway calf roping, barrel racing and pole bending.
The weekend started with a Friday night social with the competitors and their families, giving them a chance to mingle and have fun.
Wyatt Hart, a bull rider and team roper, said he started in rodeo at age 7 and loves the camaraderie of the sport.
“All my friends rodeo. I just want to be there with everyone,” Hart said. “We get to have good experiences. I’m trying to go big.”
“It’s such a great experience, getting to meet all kinds of people from all over the state and coming once a month is just a blast,” said Maranda Mathis, the current Miss Florida High School Rodeo who also competes in barrels and poles.
Saturday started with slack for barrel racers and goat-tying before the 2 p.m. regular event, which was followed by more slack for pole bending and roping events, which took things into the evening.
Sunday featured a cowboy church service at 8 a.m., followed by another competition starting at 9 a.m., with everyone competing in order of events.
Finishing at or near the top is critical as the top 15 in each event advance to states, with the top four of those going to nationals this summer in Wyoming. This gives every event the feel of the state championship.
It also gave some of the local competitors a chance to make a name for themselves. Freshman Rachel Widener of Fort Myers competed in goat tying and breakaway roping and is getting her feet wet at more local events.
“We’ve been to Branford, but we’re going to start going all over the state. It’s hard work, but it’s fun,” Widener said. “You meet new friends and having the rodeo here, your family and friends get to see you.”
Cody and Scott Martell, who once lived in North Fort Myers but now live in Arcadia, said they’re just following the family tradition of rodeo and happy to finally have a rodeo close by.
“Most of the time we have to drive several hours and stay in a horse trailer. Tonight we get to sleep in our beds,” Cody, a junior, said. “Even though we compete, we’re like a family and it’s a lot of fun.”