Ropers set sights on Duncan

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Andrew Ward, right, and Buddy Hawkins make their 10th-round run during the 2021 National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. They won the NFR average. They will rope at the Chisholm Trail RAM Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo with hopes of winning a second year-end title in the region.

DUNCAN, Okla. – Team roping header Andrew Ward is a two-time national champion who would love to win a third.

His paths took different circumstances, but his route remained the same: He first had to do well in his home region, the Prairie Circuit, in order to advance to the national circuit finals rodeo, now dubbed the NFR Open.

Ward’s first crown came at the 2018 RAM National Circuit Finals Rodeo, where he and his brother, Reagan, shared the event title; they were the year-end champions in the 2017 Prairie Circuit standings. In 2020, Andrew Ward teamed with veteran heeler Buddy Hawkins to win the circuit, then roped their way to the national titles in their respective disciplines.

They’ll take their next steps at returning to the national circuit finale at the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13-Saturday, Oct. 15, at the Stephens County Arena in Duncan.

“We compete in such a great circuit, and this is a really good chance to going to Colorado Springs (for the NFR Open),” said Ward, 32, of Edmond, Oklahoma. “We prioritize going to our circuit rodeos.”

That’s been the case for much of Ward’s career. He was 18 years old when he and Reagan first hit the rodeo trail, and they focused on competing at events close to home – the Prairie Circuit is made up of rodeos and contestants primarily from Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. They were regular qualifiers to the regional championship in Duncan, which features only the top 12 in the standings in each event.

Ward and Hawkins lead the circuit standings with $26,518 each. They own a $6,000 lead over the No. 2 tandem, Paul David Tierney and Tanner Braden, so they’d like to have a good showing at the circuit finals and secure another year-end title. Only the circuit champions and the champions from three days of competition in Duncan advance to the national championship.

Everything is progressing nicely for Ward and Hawkins. In addition to leading the circuit, they’re also third in the world standings. They’ve made the National Finals Rodeo each year they’ve been together; they also established a new 10-round aggregate record in winning the NFR average a year ago – it’s the second-most coveted title in round outside of winning a world championship.

“We really aren’t concerned about the NFR yet,” Ward said “We get concerned about having a good event in Duncan, because we can build up our money for next year.”

The 2022 regular season comes to a close Sept. 30, and money earned after Oct. 1 counts toward the 2023 world standings.

“If we have a good week, we can win between $4,000 and $6,000,” he said. “If we can do that, we can win the year-end title and go to Colorado Springs next year. It’s a really big deal to set up your next season early.”


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