Re­ward­ing rid­ing

Rice, oth­ers race to na­tional fi­nals

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NOT THE NORM SPORTS - STORY BY PAUL BOYD Paul Boyd can be reached at or on Twit­ter @NWAPaulb.

NAT­U­RAL DAM — Shelbi Rice has grown up with the rough and tum­ble world of rodeo.

She watched her cousin com­pete in the Old Fort Days Rodeo in Fort Smith, and her older brother com­pete as a steer wrestler at a young age.

“Just be­ing a lit­tle girl in the crowd, get­ting to watch a rodeo,” Rice said. “Once you see it and start to like some­thing, that’s how I am, I’m gonna go af­ter it. Watch­ing my cousin was an Old Fort Days Dandy, which is like a drill team. Grow­ing up in the coun­try, I saw girls run­ning bar­rels and rodeo­ing. It just sprang an in­ter­est in me.”

Rice is do­ing plenty more than just watch­ing now.

The ris­ing se­nior at Cedarville High School was the 2016 Arkansas High School Rodeo queen and fin­ished sixth out of 44 at the Na­tional High School Rodeo fi­nals last year.

This year’s Arkansas high school state bar­rel rac­ing cham­pion re­cently re­turned to the na­tional fi­nals to com­pete in those events.

She is one of more than 40 Arkansas High School Rodeo rep­re­sen­ta­tives who com­peted in Gil­lette, Wyo., last week, in­clud­ing seven from North­west Arkansas.

Sev­eral made their first ap­pear­ance at the na­tional fi­nals, but for team roper Booker McCutchen, a ris­ing se­nior at Bergman High School, it’s more fa­mil­iar. He was the Arkansas state team rop­ing cham­pion with Cooper Lee last year, but he claimed a sec­ond con­sec­u­tive state ti­tle — this time with long­time friend Tay­lor Biggs.

Biggs will soon head off to North­east­ern Ok­la­homa A&M in Mi­ami on a rodeo schol­ar­ship. McCutchen and Rice are ex­plor­ing their col­lege op­tions with a year of high school left, but they are hop­ing to take a sim­i­lar path to fur­ther their rodeo ca­reers at the col­le­giate level.

There are cur­rently only two col­leges in Arkansas that

have rodeo teams and of­fer schol­ar­ship money — ArkansasMon­ti­cello and South­ern Arkansas. SAU rodeo coach Rusty Hayes said there’s not a limit on the amount a rodeo schol­ar­ship could be worth.

“It could be any­where from $500 to $5,000 a se­mes­ter, there’s not a set amount,” Hayes said. “We have from about 35 to 40 kids on my team. We have out­stand­ing fa­cil­i­ties and the school sup­ports our pro­gram well.”

Hayes said Arkansas is ac­tive in high school rodeo be­ing in prox­im­ity to many ma­jor events. But the com­peti­tors in the Nat­u­ral State are nat­u­rally bet­ter in the timed events.

“With Arkansas kids, there are usu­ally good team rop­ers, calf rop­ers, they’ve been re­ally good in the goat-ty­ing,” Hayes said. “They don’t have so many in the rough stock events. You prob­a­bly have like 30 bar­rel rac­ers and maybe five sad­dle-bronc rid­ers.”

Ken­zie Cas­tor, a Spring­dale Har-Ber grad­u­ate, bat­tled back from a back in­jury to com­pete in Gil­lette in break­away rop­ing. She’s also con­tin­u­ing to rodeo in col­lege at South­east­ern Ok­la­homa State in Du­rant.

Mar­tie Shock­ley of Alma

has ex­celled in other more tra­di­tional sports as she was the Class 6A state track and field cham­pion in 300-me­ter hur­dles in 2016, but she also qual­i­fied for the na­tional fi­nals rodeo in goat-ty­ing.

Michael Holt of Har­ri­son just missed qual­i­fy­ing for na­tion­als in team rop­ing, but he did make it in a unique event — light ri­fle shoot­ing. There’s no ques­tion his ru­ral up­bring­ing and affin­ity for hunt­ing helped him be suc­cess­ful in the shoot­ing com­pe­ti­tion, he said.

Rice’s day starts early in the morn­ing on her fam­ily’s farm in Nat­u­ral Dam, a small ru­ral com­mu­nity in Craw­ford County. She tends to her horses and goats even be­fore go­ing to school. De­spite com­pet­ing and even hav­ing suc­cess at a young age, Rice and her mother, Treva, agreed win­ning a state ti­tle this year on a horse that she ba­si­cally raised and trained was es­pe­cially sat­is­fy­ing.

“She won the state bar­rel rac­ing cham­pi­onship a cou­ple of times in ju­nior high on a horse my dad bought her,” Treva Rice said. “This one, we got it when it was six months old. She did every bit of it her­self. And I’ve seen the strug­gles, the times she wasn’t win­ning and the times she was.

“For it all to cul­mi­nate, we’re so proud of her.”

NWA Demo­crat-Gazette/JA­SON IVESTER

Shelbi Rice, who will be a se­nior in the fall at Cedarville High School, is the state bar­rel rac­ing and pole bend­ing cham­pion this year and was the Arkansas High School Rodeo Queen in 2016. She re­cently com­peted in the Na­tional High School Rodeo Fi­nals in Gil­lette, Wyo.

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