OKLAHOMA CITY – The first time Sherry Cervi circled the cloverleaf pattern at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, she was 19 years old.
That was in the spring of 1994, and the Arizona cowgirl followed that season with her first qualification to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. She’s been rolling ever since.
“This rodeo has always been important to me,” said Cervi, of Marana, Ariz., the 2011 Turquoise Circuit barrel racing champion who owns three world titles. “It’s a great event that has a lot of prestige, so you always want to do well at it.”
This is ProRodeo’s National Championship, where the very best competitors in the sport earn the right to play for one of the largest purses in the sport, more than $525,000. The event provides another prestigious championship event for rodeo-savvy Oklahoma City, the longtime host of the NFR and the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping. The 2012 event marks the second straight year the RNCFR is part of Oklahoma’s storied rodeo legacy, a place that knows what makes a true champion.
Cervi returns to Oklahoma City for the RNCFR’s 26th anniversary March 29-April 1 at the Jim Norick Arena at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds. The event pits the top cowboys and cowgirls from the 12 regional ProRodeo circuits against one another for the prestigious national title. Contestants will compete in seven traditional rodeo events: bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, tie down roping, team roping, steer wrestling, barrel racing and bull riding.
“I’m excited about going back there,” said Cervi, an 11-time qualifier to the national championship. “Last year being in Oklahoma City the first year there, I thought it was a good barrel race. The committee was good to work with, and the whole event was exciting.”
Cervi is one of many prominent ProRodeo contestants who will take part in this year’s championship event, where qualifiers earn the right to compete by how well they did in 2011 in their home region. The Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo has become a major stop for the very best cowboys and cowgirls who make their living on the rodeo trail.
“The (national) circuit finals pays really good, plus I like going to all those circuit rodeos close to home,” said Taos Muncy, a two-time World Champion saddle bronc rider from Corona, N.M. “My whole family can go to it, plus sometimes it’s nice to just drive two hours and just enjoy a day.”
Competing close to home has become more important to Muncy, who celebrated the birth of his first child, a daughter named Marley, in August 2011.
“I think I was home more this year than I ever was before,” said Muncy, the year-end champion in the Turquoise Circuit. “I imagine I’ll be home more this year.”
Family is just one reason why Jerome Schneeberger likes competing at regional rodeos. The tie-down roper from Ponca City, Okla., is an 11-time qualifier to the Wrangler NFR; also he has won the Prairie Circuit’s tie-down roping title multiple times in his storied career.
“That’s where I started, and I always enjoy those rodeos,” said Schneeberger, who raises his three sons in Ponca City with his wife, Haley, a ProRodeo secretary and timer. “Most of them are smaller, but they’ve always been pretty good to me. I’ve always had pretty good luck before.”
As far as the RNCFR, Schneeberger is looking forward to the short trip down Interstate 35 to Oklahoma City.
“It was always fun to go to Pocatello when it was there, but it’s really fun right here at home,” he said. “Plus you get a chance to win some good money and the prestige of the national title, and, yeah, it’s a chance at a new pickup.
The winners in each event earn a significant paycheck during the four-day paycheck, but also they win a voucher for a Ram truck and other bonuses from ProRodeo’s premier sponsors.
“I’ve had a chance to win it before, but I never have,” Schneeberger said. “That’s one of them you’d always like to win.”
That’s something Jesse Wright knows as well as any competitor in this year’s field. Wright, the younger brother of Cody Wright, has won the last two RNCFR saddle bronc riding titles. This past December, Jesse Wright set the NFR standard by winning the average in a record 848.5 cumulative points through the 10-round finale. His $160,962 NFR check also was an earnings record for bronc riders.
He’s carrying a lot of momentum to Oklahoma City.
“To win the title, you have to have good luck,” he said. “You have to have the right horses. I guess I’ll just keep doing what I’ve been doing, staying positive, staying in shape and practicing.
“It’s pretty cool that I’ve won it in Pocatello and Oklahoma City. It’s always good to win a national rodeo.”
Every contestant who puts his or her name in the hat would like to walk away with the top prizes offered. To qualify, contestants must either win the year-end title in their respective events or win the average championship at their circuit’s finale.
“This is my first time qualifying,” said Bobby Welsh, a seven-time NFR qualifier from Gillette, Wyo. “I’m really excited to go because it’s one of the more prestigious rodeos you can go to.
“I’ve got four kids, so it would be real cool to win the voucher for a vehicle. That plays a big role in wanting to qualify for that rodeo.”
ExpressLazy E Sports Productions, in conjunction with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, produces the annual event. The 2012 RNCFR will be one of the richest rodeos in the world.
The RNCFR is the showcase event of each year’s circuit season. Each of the 12 ProRodeo circuits sends two competitors in each event to the RNCFR – the year-end earnings champion and the winner of each Ram-sponsored circuit final – to compete for cash, a national championship and a Dodge vehicle voucher. The event took place in Pocatello, Idaho, from 1987-2010.
From 1965-78, the Oklahoma State Fair Arena (then known as the Jim Norick State Fair Arena) was home to the National Finals Rodeo, where, under the direction of General Manager Clem McSpadden, it became a major league sports event.
RNCFR tickets are on sale now. For more information, contact the Express-Lazy E at (405) 282-RIDE or (405) 232-GOAL.