National High School Finals Rodeo finds a home at Lazy E Arena
The National High School Finals Rodeo is coming to Oklahoma for the first time.
The rodeo, held every year since 1949, will begin Friday at the Lazy E Arena. The event runs through July 23.
The rodeo was originally slated for Lincoln, Nebraska, this month. But fearing the spread of COVID-19, county health officials in Nebraska last month canceled it. That left the National High School Rodeo Association headquartered in Denver, Colorado, scrambling to find a new venue.
The privately owned Lazy E Arena, which has been a lifesaver for other rodeo-related events during the pandemic, was chosen. Dan Wall, general manager of the Lazy E Arena and Ranch, said 10 events have relocated from their original venues to the spacious ranch and arena outside of Guthrie because of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The PBR held three TV-only events at the Lazy E Arena in late April and early May in the first return of professional sports in the country following the initial shutdown from COVID-19.
The Lazy E Arena also hosted the Bob Feist Invitational, the country's richest team roping competition, last month. That event relocated to Guthrie from Reno, Nevada, after the Reno Rodeo was canceled.
Gary Hawkes, communications director for the NHSRA, said several venues around the country offered to host the National High School Finals Rodeo after it was nixed in Nebraska but the Lazy E made the most sense.
"The PBR is one of our sponsors and partners, and they told us how great of a job they did," Hawkes said. "The Lazy E hosts big events like this, and they kind of knew already all that we entail. With Oklahoma not having as many restrictions as some of the other states, it seemed like a better choice to go there."
Like during the PBR events at the Lazy E, many of the high school competitors and their families will stay in travel-trailers on the grounds of the ranch, while others will stay in area hotels, he said.
During the National High School Finals Rodeo, social distancing will be practiced and hand sanitizers will be located throughout the grounds, Hawkes said. Contestants will be rotated in and out, and there will fewer people allowed around the chutes, he said.
There will be plenty of seating available for fans to maintain social distancing, Hawkes said. The Lazy E Arena is capping the number of spectators at about 3,500 from its normal building capacity of more than 7,000.
There are two performances of the rodeo each day. Average attendance at each in the past has been between 500 and 1,000, Hawkes said.
More than 40 high school cowboys and cowgirls will be competing at the rodeo with two attempting to defend national titles. Caden Bunch, of Tahlequah, was the 2019 high school bull riding national champion and Taitum Thomas, of Coalgate, won the national goat tying crown. Bunch also won the state championship in May at this year's high school championship rodeo in Chickasha.
The National High School Finals Rodeo normally attracts between 1,500 to 1,600 contestants from 43 states, five Canadian provinces, Mexico and Australia. There will be fewer participants this year (about 1,500) because of COVID-19, Hawkes said.
"We will have a few (entries) from Canada but not nearly as many as we are used to," he said.
Contestants qualify to the National High School Finals Rodeo from state or other championship rodeos. The top four from each event at the state finals rodeo qualify to the national finals.
The rodeo changes venues every two years. In recent years, it has been held at Rock Springs, Wyoming; Gillette, Wyoming; and Farmington, New Mexico.
If you go
What: National High School Finals Rodeo
Where: Lazy E Arena near Guthrie
When: July 17-23; One performance on July 17 (7 p.m.), then two performances daily at 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. July 18-23.
Cost: $110 for week-long pass for adults and $55 for ages 5 to 12 (paid in advance); $15 day pass for adults; $10 day pass for ages 5-12.
Qualifiers from Oklahoma State High School Rodeo
Boys cutting: Kooper Branum, Marlow; Cooper Mendenhall, Edmond; Landon Little, Yukon; Luke Price, Pryor.
Bull riding: Caden Bunch, Tahlequah; Lukasey Morris, Union City; Lane Jackson, Oktaha; Travis Wimberly, Los Lunas, New Mexico.
Tie-down: Ryon Neathery, Klondike, Texas; Chance Thiessen, Elk City; Blake Tatham, Pryor; Briar Teague, Rattan.
Steer wrestling: Adam Musil, Crescent; Dawson Price, Guthrie; Rye Fenton, Stigler; Zane Phillips, Channing, Texas.
Saddle Bronc: Briar Teague, Rattan; Wacey Byrne, Arcadia; Trapper Bond, Knowles, Luke Price, Pryor.
Bareback: Luke Price, Pryor.
Team roping: Brodee Snow, Strang; Jordan Lovins, Canadian, Texas; Mason Appleton, Copan, Texas; Nicholas Lovins, Canadian, Texas; Rance Doyal, Durant; Britt Duncan, Kenefic; Kyle Thomas, Hodgen.
Reined cow horse: Gage Gardiner, Ashland, Kansas; Haidyn Phillips, Channing, Texas; Bailey Gregg, Guthrie.
Girls cutting: Sadie Mendenhall, Edmond; Chaley Hext, Canadian, Texas; Grace Gardiner, Ashland, Kansas; Bailey Gregg, Guthrie.
Barrel racing: Paige Jones, Wayne; Brie Wells, Lemars, Iowa; Hannah Giger, Wilburton; Cashen Turner, Edmond.
Breakaway: Calli Snyder, Hendrix; Kenna McLemore, Gracemont; Taitum Thomas, Coalgate.
Goat tying: Taitum Thomas, Coalgate; Kate Kelley, Tahlequah; Jessie Ishmael, Miami.
Pole Bending: Destinee Wofford, Velma; Dessa Hext, Canadian, Texas; Camree Slavin, Canadian, Texas; Chaley Hext, Canadian, Texas.