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VIDEO: Not The Norm Sports: Rice races to national finals rodeo

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Photographs by 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.

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.

BUCKING THE TREND

Arkansas High School Rodeo Association — Cowboys and cowgirls compete in 12 regional rodeos (six in the fall and six in the spring) plus the state finals to accumulate points based on their performance. The top four in each event qualify for the National High School Rodeo Finals. Here are the competitors from Northwest Arkansas who qualified for the national finals:

Name^Hometown^Event

Kenzie Castor^Springdale^Breakaway roping

Taylor Biggs^Belllefonte^Team roping

Michael Holt^Harrison^Light rifle shooting

Booker McCuthen^Bergman^Team roping

Shelbi Rice^Natural Dam^Barrel racing, Pole bending

Martie Shockley^Alma^Goat-tying

Tyler Smith^Huntsville^Saddle-bronc

For more information on this story, go to www.arpreps.com and click the video tab.

"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 -- Arkansas- Monticello 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."

Sports on 07/30/2017

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