KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There is something special about the American Royal Fall Festival to Connie Crouse. It’s been that way most of her life.
The Gallatin, Mo., woman recalls the days of attending the various activities in the West Bottoms. As a cowgirl, she competed in the ProRodeo at the American Royal, alongside her husband, Gene. Now it all comes full circle with her children, Kirbie, 17, and Tommy, 11, set to compete at the Invitational Youth Rodeo, which takes place Tuesday, Sept. 24-Friday, Sept. 27, at Hale Arena.
“The Royal has so much heritage and history to it,” she said. “When I was a kid, we weren’t rodeo people but ranchers, but my family would go every year and walk around the trade show and go to the ProRodeo one night. The American Royal was an important event, and we cherished it. It is the same with my husband and his family.
“Gene and I both competed at it, so, to us, it’s still a big part of our lives.”
Kirbie will compete in the senior division, which takes place at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. A goat-tier, breakaway roper and team roper, the teenager will test her talents against the other competitors in the roping events – the Invitational Youth Rodeo doesn’t feature goat-tying, even though she’s the reigning Missouri State High School Rodeo Association champion in that event.
“She’s a very aggressive competitor,” Connie said. “Sometimes it hinders her, because she’s all or nothing. She’s going to be fast, and she’s going to try to win first. She’s not afraid to go for it. But that’s also her strength.”
Indeed. In 2012, Kirbie won the second round in goat-tying at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Rock Springs, Wyo. She’s also competed in breakaway at the national level.
“Both my husband and I were the first generations of our family to rodeo, so our kids would be second generation,” Connie said. “It’s a good thing for families because, in my eyes, my kids are in my horse trailer with me on the weekends. They enjoy it, like it, and they’re competitive.”
Tommy is a calf roper who will compete in breakaway roping in Kansas City in the junior division, which will begin at noon Wednesday and Thursday – the finals will take place at noon Friday. Tommy is scheduled to compete Wednesday, with hopes of qualifying for Friday’s festivities.
“He really likes to tie-down rope,” his mother said, referring to the next step in calf roping, where contestants tie three of an animal’s legs in order to earn a qualified time. “He’s done really well so far, so we’ll see.”
The youth rodeo is a unique event in the fact that the competitors are invited to participate. The senior division features high school-aged cowboys and cowgirls, while the junior division includes eighth-graders and younger.
“I think it’s one of the coolest rodeos I work because we get to give those kids a venue like most of them have never seen before,” said Scott Grover, the arena announcer from Weston, Mo. “To me, it’s exciting because we get to peak at what the future is going to bring to ProRodeo.”
Grover knows, because he’s one of the rising stars among Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association announcers. He tours the country, lending his voice and his expertise to the fans to help enhance their experience.
“You get to see the excitement these kids have in that event, which is amazing,” Grover said. “I’m getting to an age now where I’ve watched their moms and dads rodeo, and now I’m announcing the kids.”
That brings it all back to the Crouses. Gene and Carrie still compete, primarily in the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association and the United Rodeo Association. Their children are part of those organizations, too, so they all have the opportunity to compete together.
“Our kids were horseback all their lives, and I think that’s a good thing,” Carrie Crouse said.
Hopefully it pays off for the family over a few days in Kansas City.