Reigning champs have a chance to win American Royal twice in same season
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Eight contestants have an opportunity to accomplish something that’s never been done in the history of the American Royal Rodeo – they can win two titles in the same season.
It’s possible because one month makes a big difference. This year’s rodeo – set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 28, and Saturday, Sept. 29, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, at Hale Arena in the American Royal complex – will be one of the last events of the 2012 regular season. The top contestants in the sport will make sure Kansas City is on their schedules.
“I know it’s extremely exciting for them and for us,” said Bryan Beaver, who, with Alex Lowe, is co-chairman of the American Royal Rodeo committee. “It’s a unique situation where last year’s event was a first-of-the-season rodeo, and now our upcoming rodeo is the end of the season.”
That’s why all but one of the reigning champions have a shot at competing for a second crown this season, which began Oct. 1, 2011, and ends Sept. 30, 2012. The 2011 American Royal Rodeo took place last October, making it one of the largest events early in the season. With this year’s championship event taking place the final weekend of the month, the points will count for the final world standings.
And that has everybody in ProRodeo talking about Kansas City.
“That would be a neat rodeo to win twice in the same year,” said Wes Stevenson, the reigning bareback riding champion who has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo eight times in his career. “It’s considered a tough rodeo to win, but I think it’d be fun to win it twice in the same season. How many rodeos do you get a chance to do that?”
Stevenson will be joined by steer wrestler Les Shepperson, team ropers Colby Lovell and Ryan Motes, saddle bronc riders Cole Elshere and Tyrel Larsen, tie-down roper Jerome Schneeberger and barrel racer Benette Barrington; bull rider Jacob O’Mara will miss this year’s American Royal because of an injury.
Of the 2011 winners, Stevenson, Shepperson, Lovell and Motes are almost assured spots at the NFR, which takes place Dec. 6-15 in Las Vegas. Elshere (12th) and Barrington (10th) are in the mix right now – only the top 15 contestants in each event at the conclusion of the regular season qualify for ProRodeo’s finale – but they are listed on the bubble because of the precarious nature of the sport.
“That would be awesome, and it’s something I’ve really thought about,” Barrington said. “I’m excited to go.”
Being 10th is a little more comfortable for Barrington than it is for Elshere, so that’s why Kansas City is so important for them and others who are hoping to make their way to the Nevada desert.
“We’ve tried to make it a competitive rodeo, and we add a lot of money for them to try to win,” said Lowe, whose brother, Will, is a three-time world champion bareback rider. “We put those winners from last year in a unique position to where they have a chance to win a rodeo twice in the same season. I think it’s something they can really be proud of if it happens.”
For Lowe, it’s nice to have one of his friends in the mix. Stevenson and Will Lowe are traveling partners and good friends, so Alex Lowe has strong ties to the reigning bareback champion.
“Wes is a great guy, and for him to win a rodeo is special, but for him to have a chance to win the American Royal twice in one year is even better,” Alex Lowe said. “But there are a lot of guys that really want to do something here. I think you’ve got some guys who will be right there in the standings where they have a shot, so they’re going to sneak up here and compete to stay in that spot for the National Finals.”
While rodeos like the American Royal offer large purses, none is bigger than the NFR. That’s why contestants battle so hard to earn the money it takes to play in Las Vegas. That’s why Kansas City is a place they must be the last weekend of September.