That’s the thing about tradition, it inspires folks to keep it going. No one wants to be the group that ended “the run.”
And it certainly did not end with this year’s group of competitors for the Weatherford College rodeo team, who qualified the most ever from the program for the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming. And from those who extended WC’s streak at the elite event to 15 years, three came home with a top 10 finish.
“It’s been a good long streak that I am very proud to be a part of. We here at Weatherford are very fortunate to draw the kind of talent we get year-in and year-out,” Head Rodeo Coach Johnny Emmons said. “Weatherford College, the town, the county, the entire area is just a great place to live, go to school and rodeo. We have a lot of support from the school and our community, we’ve built a good reputation, and it’s just become a great destination for college students who want to rodeo.”
Sophomore Leighton Berry’s fifth-place finish in bareback riding led another strong showing for the program, which last failed to send someone to Casper when George W. Bush was barely halfway through his first term as U.S. President (2003).
Joining Berry in the top 10 were sophomore Bristan Kennedy, who placed sixth in barrel racing, and freshman Kasen Brennise, who finished seventh in tie down roping.
“I was very proud of the entire team,” Emmons said. “WC was very well represented. They definitely knew we were there, and if we could go back and start over, I would be happy to take the same seven up there and feel 100 percent confident they would do better.”
Also, sophomore Chantz Webster placed 14th in tie down roping, freshman Blake Bentley and sophomore Kade Smith were 19th in team roping and sophomore Lane Cooper finished 33rd in team roping with Casey McCleskey of Clarendon College.
“WC is an amazing place to be,” Kennedy said. “I am very thankful for the time I had there and for being able to compete at the college finals with my WC vest on, to continue WC’s tradition.”
Kennedy was also the Southwest Region champion in barrel racing this season, while her horse, Cici, was named the region’s Women’s Horse of the Year. Brennise was the regional champion in tie down roping.
“Luck of the draw really did play a role in our efforts,” Emmons said of the CNFR. “Leighton rode as well as anyone there, but he just didn’t have strong bucking horses to really showcase his talent and rack up the points.
“I know he was disappointed, but like he said, ‘I laid it all out there and did the best I could.’ I agreed 100 percent. He is a superstar, and someday all rodeo fans will hear a lot more about him.”
Both Berry and Bentley were coming back from injuries that held them back last season.
“It’s a cool tradition. It’s pretty special to be a part of this,” Bentley said. “Johnny’s a great coach He’s why I came to Weatherford.”
Already looking forward to stretching the qualifying streak to 16 years, Emmons noted, “Four of the seven are returning next year. Cooper, Bentley, Brennise, and Smith will have one year (two years for Cooper) of CNFR experience under their belts, and that experience will always be helpful in the future.”
Cooper qualified in 2018 with fellow team roper Kirby Blankenship, who narrowly missed a return this season.
The WC roster featured 25 freshmen this season, including Laney Fowler and Faith Holyan, who teamed with Kennedy and sophomore Kelly Valdez to win the barrel racing title at eight of 10 rodeos.
Also, the WC women and men finished third in the region, narrowly missing out on team qualifications.
Emmons said his national competitors were inspired to see several school officials make the trip to Casper, including WC President Tod Allen Farmer.
“It was great having Dr. Farmer there for a few days. Dr. Andra Cantrell and board member Judy McAnally were there for the final two nights,” Emmons said. “They got to spend some time with our athletes and get a good feel for what the CNFR means to our students.”