Dora cowboy chasing high school rodeo titles

By Kevin Wilson

While the goal is to get to Gillette, Wyo., a lot of high schoolers will ultimately get to know Clovis this week.

For the second year, the New Mexico High School Finals Rodeo are being held at the Curry County Events Center, starting Thursday.

The students get a four-day rodeo, with a chance to earn a berth in National High School Finals Rodeo, set for July 18-24 in Gillette. Clovis gets a chance at summer tourism dollars.

“You’re (assuming) 95, 96 percent of these people are coming from out of town,” said Kevin Jolley, manager of the Curry County Events Center. “They’ll be renting stalls, they’ll be shopping here, they’ll be staying at the hotels.

“It brings so many faces in. These people aren’t going to go home at night because they’re coming from Farmington, Albuquerque, Las Cruces …”

Jolley said all 200 stalls at the events center are rented for the week, about four times the total for last weekend’s Pioneer Days Rodeo. When a professional rodeo comes around, Jolley said it’s simply not in the performers’ financial interests to stay more than a few hours.

The top four finishers in each event — based on season-long point accumulations — move on to nationals.

“A lot of the races are pretty close right now,” state secretary Myra Skinner said. “Some of the top four contestants are going to be determined on how they perform this week.”

Competitors are ill-advised to blow off the finals even if they’ve clinched a spot, Skinner said, because points earned carry into the national finals.

Jesse Clark, a 2010 graduate of Dora High School and Skinner’s son, is in the top four in calf roping and steer wrestling, and hopes he can make a huge jump in the standings to qualify in team roping.

A two-time national competitor, Clark said being close having the state finals close to home is an advantage.

“It’s a little easier because I’ve roped in that arena more than most people have; I’ve got a feel for that arena,” Clark said. “You’re not as tired when you get there, and you get to keep your horses at home.”

The first competition starts Wednesday, with the state queen competition. Ashlee Stallings, the queen contest coordinators, said there are two competitors this year — Payton Cowdrey of Valencia High School and Alissa Burson of Piedra Vista High School. Both are 17, and have concluded their junior years.

Wednesday’s events include orientation, a written test, an interview and horsemanship exhibition. The two will do modeling and prepared speeches Thursday, and the winner will be crowned to open Friday’s events.

“It’s a big step,” Stallings said. “They don’t just get the crown. She’ll travel across the state and go to all the high school rodeos during her reign.”

When she was Miss Rodeo New Mexico in 2007, Stallings said she logged about 40,000 miles of travel, in addition to competing for Miss Rodeo USA.

“It is nerve-wracking,” Stallings said. “There’s a lot of work in preparing for nationals.”