Race to NFR comes to Stephenville

Special to the E-T

STEPHENVILLE — For many years, the professional cowboys and cowgirls that live in Erath County longed for their hometown rodeo to have significance and meaning in ProRodeo.

Athens, Texas, cowboy Jeff Askey jumped five spots into the top 15 of the PRCA | RAM World Standings. Last week, Askey brought in $15,178, which included a round win at the Pendleton Whisky Xtreme Bulls Tour Finale in Pendleton, Ore., and second-place finishes in Santa Fe and Albuqerque, N.M.

They got what they were asking for a few years ago, and the renewed tradition has continued. The Cowboy Capital of the World PRCA Rodeo — set for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at Lone Star Arena in Stephenville — has become a big-time stop during the final weekend of ProRodeo’s regular season.

Stephenville is a must stop for the cowboys on the bubble for the National Finals Rodeo, because this is the last chance they have to situate themselves among the top 15 in the world standings in their respective events; the NFR only takes the elite on the money list at the end of the regular season, so the stakes are high inside Lone Star Arena.

“Our rodeo really is important to the community,” said Ben Clements, a longtime member of the volunteer committee that organizes the annual rodeo and also a ProRodeo announcer. “It’s also unique because lots of these cowboys and cowgirls have been rodeoing all year long. The last rodeo of the year comes down to their hometown rodeo.

Clements

“They’ve been rodeoing hard the last few weeks of the season, and this rodeo is the deciding factor for who’s in and who’s out.”

There are some great races to the finish that will be decided in Stephenville. In bull riding, Jeff Askey has a $417 lead over Ruger Piva for the coveted 15th spot, while Piva has a $456 advantage over the No. 17 man, Roscoe Jarboe. In bareback riding, three-time NFR qualifier Mason Clements is $627 behind the No. 15 man, Zach Hibler.

In each event, there are stories like that, but there are also many other tales that come along heading into the final week of the rodeo season.

“There are so many stories that are going on and so many ways that it can turn out that it’s cool to watch, cool to announce,” Clements said. “There are just lots of unique things going on, and it just makes for great stories all the way around.”

The timing of Stephenville’s rodeo is great for contestants and fans alike. For many years, the Cowboy Capital of the World PRCA Rodeo took place in early June. That made it tough on the dozens of local contestants to be part of their hometown rodeo, and the event struggled to draw attendance because of the warmer temperatures and other factors.

That changed in 2012, and the rodeo has been recognized as one of the best since.

“We’ve tried to grow things and make everything better,” Clements said. “It’s a better time of year not only for the contestants but for the community as well. People are looking for something to do. This is the last little bit of warm weather, and it’s just a great time for everybody. It’s not too hot, and it’s not too cold.

“It makes for a fun atmosphere for everybody.”