DUNCAN, Okla. – Andrew and Reagan Ward’s goal was simple from the start: Get to Duncan in October, then move on.
While the mindset was straightforward, the path was steeped with landmines. From roping competitors to tough-to-handle steers to long drives and little sleep, there have been many challenges in the 2014 season for the team roping brothers from Edmond, Okla.
The Wards have secured the first step of their plan, qualifying for the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16-18 at the Stephens County Fair and Expo Center in Duncan. The next step is to perform well in the arena and earn spots in the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, which will take place next spring in Ocala, Fla.
“What we’d really like to do is to make it to Florida,” said Reagan Ward, 27, the No. 1 heeler in the Prairie Circuit, the ProRodeo region made up of events and contestants primarily in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. “I don’t care if we win the year-end or the circuit finals average, but the goal is to get to Florida.”
Only the year-end and average champions in each event qualify for the national championship, which will feature the top two contestants in each event from each of the 12 circuits nationwide.
“That’s why we go to rodeos; we’re trying to make it to Florida,” said Andrew, 24, who has virtually clinched the region’s heading year-end title. “We went to more circuit rodeos just trying to make it to Florida.
“You want to do good at the circuit finals. We’ve (finished) second in the average two years in a row and didn’t go to as many circuit rodeos as we did this year.”
The Wards have done quite well over the last few seasons, and this year is no exception with each earning more than $16,500 in circuit cash through labor Day. They won rodeos in Woodward, Okla.; Hastings, Neb.; and Topeka, Kan. They also fared well at big-money Kansas rodeos in Dodge City and Phillipsburg. Andrew owns a $5,700 lead over the No. 2 header, Troy Boone of Mutual, Okla.; Reagan’s lead is just $1,100 over Billie Saebens of Nowata, Okla.
“Getting to Duncan and giving us a chance to win the average is important for us,” Reagan said. “It’s just important that we go in there and catch three.”
The circuit finals features three go-rounds, and the team that posts the fastest three-run cumulative score will be crowned average champion. Each dollar counts, too, with the season’s top money-earners at the conclusion of the finale winning the year-end titles.
“We’re just trying to get better while competing in the circuit,” Andrew said. “That way you can stay closer to home and keep your money around while still rodeoing.”
What’s even better is that the siblings do it together.
“He’s really the only guy I’ve ever roped with,” Reagan said of his younger brother. “It’s still fun. We high school rodeoed together and college rodeoed together.
“I think one of the reasons we’ve been successful is because of the work we’ve put in together. I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.”
That assurance goes both ways.
“We really don’t know anything different,” Andrew said. “It’s fun when we win, because we’re winning double.”
The brothers are just two of the circuit standings leaders with about two weeks remaining in the 2014 season. Other leaders are bareback rider Caine Riddle of Vernon, Texas; steer wrestler Cole Edge of Durant, Okla.; saddle bronc rider Wade Sundell of Boxholm, Iowa; barrel racer Gretchen Benbenek of Aubrey, Texas; tie-down roper Jerome Schneeberger of Ponca City, Okla.; steer roper Chet Herren of Pawkhuska, Okla.; and bull rider Sage Kimzey of Strong City, Okla.
They’re all locked to compete during the finale in Duncan, a showcase of the greatest ProRodeo stars in the game aligned in one three-night championship.