Wilson County is the second fastest growing county in the state of Tennessee, and over 50,000 people will travel to the county next week as the National Junior High Rodeo finals start on Sunday.
Melanie Minter, president of the Lebanon/Wilson County Chamber of Commerce, says about 1,000 competitors will participate.
“These contestants are coming from all over the world, they’re coming from all over the United States, Canada, and Australia,” said Minter.
Created in 2004, the NHSRA Junior High Division was established to bring the excitement of the sport to 6th, 7th, and 8th graders and to serve as a feeder system into the high school ranks of the association.
Today, all 48 states and provinces that belong to the NHSRA also produce a Junior High Division as well, with over 2,500 members in total now competing.
Junior High Division students compete in a variety of events, including barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, breakaway roping, tie-down roping, chute dogging, team roping, ribbon roping, and junior bull riding, bareback steer riding and saddle bronc steer riding
The horn blares, signifying the end of his required ride and Spears loosens his grip and flops to the dirt with a thud. Unorthodox for sure, and certainly not pretty, but Spears has done what only one other cowboy at the Larimer County Rodeo has managed in 2016 — a scoring 8-second ride.
“You pretty much do whatever it takes,” he says afterward. “I have a mentality of ‘don’t quit until your head hits the ground.’ I usually don’t let go and tend to get injured and sored up more than most guys do because of that, but tonight it worked out.
“When I was on the side like that, I was just going to hang on until the bitter end. It all worked out, I made the whistle and won a little bit of money to keep doing the next rodeo.”
And that’s what it comes down to for most cowboys. Just survive and move on. Back on the road again.
Life in rodeo is grueling and often times painful. Stress on the body, long hours on the road and plenty of times where the ride just doesn’t work out.
The best rodeo cowboys in the world make it through like any top-level professional: Plenty of glory, mountains of cash and the envy of everyone below trying to achieve such heights.
Lance Miller never wanted to give up rodeo.
But a serious concussion at the Days of ’47 Rodeo a few years ago convinced the Panguitch cowboy to give up riding broncs for a living.
“I just decided to take some time off and get back on my feet,” said the 43-year old. After seeking treatment for concussion symptoms, he began to feel better.
But for the next several years, he was content to ride only on his birthday.
“Every year on my birthday, I rode a (bucking) horse, just to make sure I could,” he said. “I’ve ridden in rodeos since I was old enough to crawl over the chutes. That’s all I’ve wanted to do.”
So when he ran into a friend who’d found success on a senior rodeo circuit, he saw an opportunity to reignite his passion. He began competing on the Senior Pro Circuit with a lot of success, including two year-end championships.
In last year’s national saddle bronc competition, he took third. He’s leading heading into next week’s Senior National Finals Rodeo, and not only is he planning to earn that title, he’s going to do it in front of a home town crowd.
Early in 2015, he “decided that instead of traveling to all of these rodeos all over the country, I’ll put on a decent rodeo in Panguitch.”