Life is a stage

Every contestant who qualifies for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo dreams of walking onto the South Point Casino, Hotel & Spa Showroom stage to accept a Montana Silversmiths buckle for winning a round. I stopped by the South Point – my Wrangler NFR home the last five years – to check out the festivities after Round 2, and I was not disappointed.

Hosts Flint Rasmussen and Randy Corley – who won the 2011 PRCA Announcer of the Year award on Wednesday night – were in good form as they welcomed the night’s winners from Round 2 onto the stage. I snuck my way backstage and watched the contestants accept their buckles – and a bottle of Pendleton Whisky – along with family and friends.

Miss Rodeo America 2011 McKenzie Haley and Miss Rodeo Canada 2012 Arleta Bowhay were on-hand to help make the presentations and “pretty up” the joint. The Showroom was packed from front to back, and people stood outside the doors in the casino watching the presentations on the South Point’s closed-circuit feed.

Bareback rider Kaycee Feild was on the stage for the second consecutive night and ended his acceptance speech by thanking the U.S. troops. Feild, the son of ProRodeo Hall of Famer Lewis Feild and the current world standings leader, went on a trip to visit troops in Iraq as part of the Wrangler Patriot Tour earlier this season.

Steer wrestler Trevor Knowles, who also won for the second night in a row, thanked his parents, who were in attendance, and presented Rasmussen with an off-color bumper sticker that had the crowd spitting out their Coors Lights with laughter.

Team ropers Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith brought their children and other family members on stage with them, and Brazile mentioned that it was his mother Glenda’s birthday and a day after his son, Treston, had turned 4. Treston Brazile thrilled the crowd by yelling, “Long live cowboys,” into the microphone, and Smith’s shy 3-year-old daughter Kylee informed the crowd – through her father – that her horse’s name is Fred.

Cody Ohl, who also swept Rounds 1 and 2, said he is as focused and confident as ever and is in a full-on hunt for his sixth tie-down roping gold buckle.

“This is why I still rope,” Ohl said about the buckle presentation and fan support. “It’s what keeps me going. The money is nice, but this is what is fun.”

Saddle bronc rider Chuck Schmidt accepts his round buckle at the South Point.

Two Wrangler NFR rookies – saddle bronc rider Chuck Schmidt and bull rider Chandler Bownds – were among the night’s winners, and they were making their first trips onto the stage. I wanted to talk to them and find out how special it was for them to join the ranks of Wrangler NFR round winners.

“It felt pretty good, and I wasn’t as nervous as I thought I would be,” Schmidt said of being on the Showroom stage. “I’d never been to (a buckle presentation) before, but it was about what I expected.”

Schmidt said the butterflies he felt at the Thomas & Mack Center in Round 1 were gone for Round 2, and he went back to business.

“Yesterday, boy, I was shaking,” said Schmidt, who traded his round buckle with Bar T Rodeo for the stock buckle after the presentation. “I was nervous. But today, I felt better because I knew I’d gotten my first (round win) out of the way. Hopefully, I can keep it up. It’s good to start out like this.”

The diminutive Bownds – who they say is 20, but who looks 14 – was giddily happy to walk onto the stage and accept the round buckle.

“It felt great to be out there with all my family and friends to get my first NFR buckle,” said Bownds, who weighs just 150 pounds. “It was just awesome to win the second round and be 91 points on a bull of Jeff Ross’. It was beautiful. I’m ready to put this buckle on.”

For Corley, hosting the buckle presentations is one of his favorite parts of being an elite rodeo announcer.

“I love this part of it probably more than any of it,” said Corley, who won seven of his 11 PRCA Announcer of the Year awards in consecutive years from 1990-96. “The contestants have fun coming here, and what you want to do is try to loosen them up, no matter how bashful they might be or whatever. That makes it fun, and people get to know them a little more personally.”

The presentations are fun, and fans get to see a less serious side of their favorite cowboys. Some of them even get emotional and shed a tear under the bright lights alongside family members and friends.

It’s a special and fun atmosphere, and the buckle presentations are a must-see for rodeo fans in Las Vegas. I know I’m sure glad I went.

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