DUNCAN, Okla. – Andrew Ward and Buddy Hawkins are full-time team ropers and part-time mathematicians.
They held the regional lead heading into this weekend’s Chisholm Trail RAM Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, about $7,000 ahead of the field. That’s significant in the circuit’s standings but it didn’t clinch the season championship, so the tandem went to work. They stopped the clock in 4.4 seconds to win Thursday’s first round.
“This was a really important run for us,” said Hawkins, 35, originally from Columbus, Kansas, now living in Stephenville, Texas. “We’ve done some math, and if we happened to do pretty good tonight, it would probably cinch the year-end title in the Prairie Circuit, which has been the home circuit for us most of our lives.”
He’s correct. The $1,926 each man pocketed on the opening night of the regional finale secured their circuit championships: Ward in heading, and Hawkins in heeling. They are a lock to compete at the 2023 NFR Open, the event formerly known as the National Circuit Finals Rodeo and host of year-end and circuit finals average winners from each region in ProRodeo.
Winning the circuit title isn’t an easy task, but Ward and Hawkins are having another exceptional season. Not only did they win the region made up of contestants and rodeos primarily from Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska, they have earned their third straight bid to compete together at the National Finals Rodeo. They are one of three teams in this weekend’s field that will compete in December at Las Vegas.
“These guys are great,” Ward, 33, of Edmond, Oklahoma, said of the other teams in the mix in Duncan. “Everybody has a chance to win the day money. We feel like our circuit’s stacked. We’ve been on the other side of it when we’ve made a good run and watch them come get us and knock us completely out of the money.
“To be able to win the day money is awesome, and we’re thankful, but it’s not always going to happen that way just because of how stacked this field is.”
It comes down to the little things that make a run be successful, and that’s just what they’ve been. They earned their first NFR bid in the COVID-infested 2020 campaign, then roped for the championship at its one-time home of Arlington, Texas.
They returned to the sport’s grand finale in 2021 in its return to Las Vegas and promptly set a new team roping standard at the Thomas & Mack Center by roping 10 steers in a cumulative time of 54.7 seconds. They each earned just shy of $116,000 in a week and a half in the Nevada desert.
“I think a lot of it is we think a lot alike,” Hawkins said. “If you’re going into the runs with the same mentality – whether it’s the Bob Feist Invitational or Cheyenne with the long start or at the NFR or San Antonio with the shorter barriers and smaller arenas – each mentality is so important, so I think it adds to our success.
“On the night, it was the run we needed to make, and we stayed disciplined. It seems like when we try to do what we do best, we end up on top over the course of the year. If we try to out-perform these other guys that are so talented, it’s very difficult, especially when you consider there are 12 teams and there’s only one first place, so your odds right off the bat are a little bit lower.”
Each run they make together gives Ward and Hawkins a chance to gel even more. They made a statement at the NFR last year, but all they see are opportunities to improve.
“I don’t know if we gained more confidence at the NFR last year,” Ward said. “Setting the record was special, but it was just part of roping good out there. I think what’s given me confidence this year is that I’ve gotten to experiences (Las Vegas) for a year.
“It’s a different building, so it’s something you’ve got to learn about I didn’t feel like I did my absolute best, so I think I can bring a little better out there.”
If they continue to rope like they did on opening night in Duncan, they stand a good chance.
Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo
Bareback riding: First round: 1. Colt Eck, 81.5 points on New Frontier Rodeo’s Law Dog, $1,926; 2. Mike Fred, 80.5, $1,445; 3. Jayco Roper, 80, $963; 4. (tie) Trevor Lattin and Yance Day, 78 $241 each.
Steer wrestling: First round: 1. Bridger Anderson, 3.9 seconds, $1,928; 2. Cody Devers, 4.5, $1,445; 3. (tie) Tucker Alberts and Blame Mindemann, 5.3, $722 each.
Team roping: First round: 1. Andrew Ward/Buddy Hawkins, 4.4 seconds, $1,926; 2. Bubba Buckaloo/Joseph Harrison, 5.2, $1,445; 3. Trevor Howard/Cody Heflin, 5.6, $963; 4. Jake Cooper Clay/Billie Jack Saebens, 6.0, $482.
Breakaway roping: First round: 1. KeAnn Hayes, 2.4 seconds, $565; 2. Alyssa Bigon, 2.5, $424; 3. Ari-Anna Flynn, 2.9, $283; 4. Hannah Lee, 11.8, $141.
Saddle bronc riding: First round: 1. Tyrel Larsen, 82.5 points on Silver Creek Rodeo’s Bunny Gal, $1,926; 2. Trent Burd, 80.5, $1,445; 3. Luke Richard Price, 79.5, $963; 4. Ean Price, 78, $482.
Tie-down roping: First round: 1. J.T Adamson, 8.2 seconds, $1,926; 2. Austin Lawrence, 8.5, $1,445; 3. Cody McCartney, 9.2, $963; 4. Wyatt Muggli, 9.6, $482.
Barrel racing: First round: 1. Emily Griffin, 16.35 seconds, $1,926; 2. Ivy Hurst, 16.38, $1,445; 3. Michelle Darling, 16.42, $936; 4. Emily Beisel, 16.43, $482.
Bull riding: First round: 1. Fulton Rutland 86.5 points on McCoy Rodeo’s Homegrown, $2,087; 2. Trey Holston, 82, $1,605; 3. Logan Hunter, 77, $1,124; no other qualified rides.