Fort Worth may be Cowtown, but Weatherford and Parker County have a pretty good collection of cowboys and cowgirls.
And not the least of these is at the high school level.
The North Texas High School Rodeo Association Finals are this weekend at Will Rogers Coliseum in Fort Worth. Weatherford High School is third among the team standings, and numerous Parker County athletes have qualified among the top 15 in their respective events.
But the life of a rodeo athlete is never an easy one, regardless of the level. Just like their professional counterparts, high school rodeo participants have much to do before, during and after each event.
"These students work harder than any other student athlete I know," said Weatherford team sponsor Cora Gray. "They practice every day, rain or shine, and their jobs don't end when they're done riding. They have livestock to care for, and they treat these animals better than they do themselves."
Since rodeo is not a University Interscholastic League sport, teams often don't get the same recognition around their school as, say, basketball or football.
"It's up to them to push themselves to get better, and since the school does not recognize them at all, they don't get the congratulations and support other sports get," Gray said. "They end up relying heavily on each other for support. The team is like a family. These kids support each other every single weekend, and I honestly believe that's what makes the team succeed, because they are all in it together, and they want to see each other succeed."
Likewise, teams don't usually receive funding from their schools, Gray said. She said they have been recognized once at a pep rally and are sometimes mentioned in the school paper, but have no school budget like other sports.
"The team must work much harder to raise funds," she said. "Each year we are required [by the NTHSRA] to host a rodeo, and this costs $20,000. As a team these kids are responsible for raising the funds to do so, which puts much more responsibilities on them."
They make it work, however. Parker County has teams in Weatherford, Aledo, Brock, Millsap, Poolville, Peaster, Springtown and Azle.
"The community does a good job of supporting our team," she said. "Community businesses put sponsorship ads in the rodeo program to help the team host the rodeo. The community does a great job with this and we appreciate it greatly.
"These kids work so hard and deserve so much more recognition and reward than they get. They all have great hearts and heads on their shoulders, and I'm honored to be their sponsor."
As the finals get set to begin, Brody Yeary of Brock leads the bull riding competition with 614.5 points. He's nearly 160 points ahead of his closest competitor. He's also second in saddle bronc.
Yeary is the only Parker County athlete to lead his division. However, several others are near the top in their events.
Weatherford has the No. 2 through No. 5 qualifiers in bareback riding - Joel Hull, Blake Walter, Brandon Strand and Tim Lankford. Timber Lyon of Poolville is second in breakaway roping, walk-up goat tying and ride-up goat tying; Jamie Pytlik of Weatherford is second in pole bending; and Garrett Jones of Aledo is fourth in bull riding; Sydney Nesky of Weatherford is second, Samantha Hernandez of Peaster is third, Sarah Brown of Weatherford is fourth and Mary Smith of Weatherford is sixth in steer undecorating.
Gracie Key of Poolville is third in the Rookie Cowgirl standings, and Lyon is third in the All-Around Cowgirl standings.
Poolville is also seventh among team standings.
Weatherford finished sixth out of 80 teams in the 2013-14 season. This year, the team is enjoying an even better season, having climbed to as high as second in the standings before ending the regular season third.
Gray said one has to go to back to the 1980s for the last time Weatherford won the team championship.
North Texas High School Rodeo Association Finals
Friday and Saturday
Will Rogers Coliseum, Fort Worth.
To see who is competing in Parker County go to weatherfordtelegram.net for a complete listing.
Parker County finalists
▪ Joel Hull - second in bareback.
▪ Blake Walter - third in bareback.
▪ Brandon Strand - fourth in bareback.
▪ Tim Lankford - fifth in bareback.
▪ Timothy Chancellor - ninth in Bareback.
▪ Clint Mayo - 11th in bareback.
▪ Kole Parsons - 13th in team roping-heading.
▪ Brendon Letson - 15th in chute dogging.
▪ Wynn Todd - 11th in breakaway roping.
▪ Mary Smith - 12th among All-Around Cowgirl, sixth in steer undecorating, 11th in barrel racing, 12th in pole bending, 12th in breakaway roping.
▪ Sydney Nesky - second in steer undecorating.
▪ Sarah Brown - fourth in steer undecorating.
▪ Jamie Pytlyk - second in pole bending.
▪ Garrett Jones - fourth in bull riding.
▪ Kaelee Brown - Eighth among Rookie Cowgirl, 15th in pole bending.
▪ Brody Year - ninth among All-Around Cowboy, first in bull riding, second in saddle bronc, 12th in bareback.
▪ Tygen Kukuk - seventh in steer wrestling.
▪ Samantha Hernandez - ninth among All-Around Cowgirl, third in steer undecorating, fourth in pole bending, ninth in walk-up goat tying.
▪ Timber Lyon - third among All-Around Cowgirl, second in breakaway roping, second in walk-up goat tying, second in ride-up goat tying, seventh in barrel racing.
▪ Gracie Key - third among Rookie Cowgirl, eighth in barrel racing.