Rookies, regulators and reports

On Tuesday afternoon, the PRCA brass held the annual “State of the PRCA” press conference. That’s where the administration lays out the schedules and plans for the upcoming year and talks about the season that was.

PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman went over the highlights and was candid about the association’s concerns and goals for the future. Stressman was joined by PRCA Chairman of the Board Keith Martin, PRCA Director of Communications Kendra Santos, as well as the rest of the PRCA senior staff and PRCA Board members Spud Duvall and Fred Boettcher.

PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman addresses the media at the annual Wrangler NFR press conference.

The big news was that the PRCA has signed a deal with Ak-Sar-Ben’s River City Rodeo & Stock Show (ARCR) that will keep the Justin Boots Championships in Omaha,Neb., through 2014. The 2012 Wrangler ProRodeo Tour schedule was not released, but Stressman reiterated the association’s earlier announcement that the Tour standings would change and now be based on world standings.

Stressman also said that the top six in the Tour standings will receive – for the first time ever – bonuses at the end of the regular Tour season ranging from $7,500 for first to $1,500 to sixth. That could catapult a cowboy into the top 24 – the number of contestants in each event who qualify for the postseason – and therefore be the difference between qualifying for the Wrangler NFR and spending December at home on the couch.

Stressman said he and the administration is very happy with the Tour system and the Omaha finale.

“We’re very, very happy with that championship,” he said.

He was also complimentary about the PRCA’s other systems and series.

“The intent for the All-American ProRodeo Series is indeed working,” Stressman said, citing the fact that the grassroots series had some smaller-named champions this year. “We are also very committed to the circuit system. We’re very satisfied with our partners in Oklahoma City (for the circuit finals).”

PRCA Commissioner Karl Stressman gives some reporters some one-on-one time.

The Commish said he is happy with the PRCA’s relationship with GAC, which will once again televise the association’s premier events – including the Wrangler NFR – in 2012.

“We’re thrilled with our partnership with GAC, and we’ve had a lot of good response about the change to GAC on the social networks,” Stressman said. “I think it fits better, and we have more creative control than we could ever have on ESPN. I’m very excited for next year with GAC.”

ProRodeo broadcasts of its top-level events will move to Tuesdays in 2012 and will follow the Grand Ole Opry, the network’s highest-rated show. The Wrangler NFR will once again be televised live on the network and include pre-performance shows.

The Xtreme Bulls Tour will have an expanded schedule in 2012, with seven premier events receiving television coverage. Xtreme Bulls Manager Sam Dunn was optimistic about the Tour’s future and its growing strength.

“We’re pleased with the way the schedule’s shaping up for 2012,” Dunn said. “We have some new events that have come on board, and we’re excited about it all. The biggest thing about the Xtreme Bulls Tour is that it benefits our local PRCA rodeos. We’ve had some other bull riding events from other sanctioning organizations come over to the PRCA because they know it’s going to benefit the PRCA cowboys and benefit their rodeo as well.”

Stressman said that, while the number of rodeos rose slightly in 2011 to 572, the number of contestants fell by 186. That fact is a worry of his and of the entire administration.

“That’s very, very concerning for us,” Stressman said of the decrease in membership. “The model we operate under has some issues with it, and the economy also plays a big role. We’re not OK with any decrease in numbers. Our operation runs on the dues the members pay, so any decrease affects the bottom line of the organization.

“We’ve got to recruit at a level where the guys can come out and compete immediately.”

Martin said the Board is taking the issue very seriously.

“The Board has made this our top priority,” said Martin, the head honcho at the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo, which won its seventh PRCA Indoor Rodeo of the Year award last week. “Historically, we’ve had a pipeline of contestants coming into our sport, but we’ve never had a recruiting program. Young people in rural areas have more choices than ever before.”

Bareback riding is an event that is always struggling to find new competitors. Four-time World Champion Bareback Rider Bobby Mote, who won Round 5 with an 87-point ride on Classic Pro Rodeo’s Nutrena’s Wise Guy, said it’s crucial to get more youngsters interested in the roughstock events.

“There are not a lot of bareback riders out there right now,” said Mote, who crossed the $100,000 mark on the year with his $17,885 first-place check. “We need to start at the bottom and start bringing them up. I know the committees don’t like this, but there needs to be a separation where the up-and-comers compete against up-and-comers so they can get to winning and get some confidence and get some checks.”

Mote said gaining more bareback riders and roughstock cowboys could be an uphill battle.

“I do a handful of schools each year in different areas of the country,” he said. “You go to Helena, Mont., and we’ll have 28 kids in the middle of the winter, but go to California in the spring and can’t get anybody.

“The biggest excuse why they can’t come is that they can’t come up with the $300. When I started riding bareback horses, I went to Clint Corey’s school, and it was $300. Here we are 20 years later, and it’s the same price, so it’s a labor of love to do them. It’s just hard to get kids to come to the schools.”

Boettcher said the growth of the Xtreme Bulls Tour will help grow the event and the sport in general.

“It’s growing the sport of rodeo by emphasizing one event,” said Boettcher, the bull riding representative. “My hat’s off to these rodeos. We’re just trying to create more opportunities, and I think it’s going to come full circle.”

Speaking of new blood, the 2011 Resistol Rookies of the Year – J.R. Vezain (BB), Ty Erickson (SW), Joshua Torres (TR-header), Dakota Kirchenschlager (TR-heeler), Sterling Crawley (SB), Chandler Bownds (BR), Rob Denny (SR) and Lee Ann Rust (WBR) – were recognized during Round 6. They filed out onto the Thomas & Mack Center arena dirt and were acknowledged between the tie-down roping and barrel racing, and I was able to catch up with a couple of them shortly afterward in the tunnel that leads to the arena.

Some of the 2011 Resistol Rookies of the Year posed for a photo in the Wrangler NFR tunnel.

Bownds not only qualified for the Wrangler NFR, but won Round 2 with a 91-point ride on Robinson Pro Rodeo’s RMEF Bugle. The other rookie award winners were starry-eyed after receiving an ovation from more than 17,000 – as well as their Montana Silversmiths buckles and bonus checks for an undisclosed amount – at the world’s premier rodeo.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Erickson, the steer wrestling rookie of the year. “I’ve never done anything like that – walking out in front of 17,000 people. That was an experience of a lifetime. Just getting a little taste of something like this just makes you really want to try and bear down and make the Finals.”

Crawley, the younger brother of Wrangler NFR saddle bronc rider Jacobs Crawley, was also inspired by his time on the arena floor.

“It was exciting just to be out there,” Crawley said. “Just seeing my brother ride out there has lit a fire (in me) that I just can’t explain, honestly. There aren’t many atmospheres quite like it.”

You know what? The young guns are exactly right.

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