(SHAWNEE, Okla.) – The 23rd annual International Finals Youth Rodeo came to a close July 10. The world’s richest youth rodeo awarded more than $200,000 in prize money, championship saddles and buckles this week.
The IFYR started with more than 930 contestants. After two long-go’s and 10 performances, the top 15 averages from each event competed in the finals Friday night for a shot at the championships.
Brett Stuart of Bridgeport, Texas, took home the All Around Cowboy title and Shelby Lankford of Blanchard, Okla. earned the title of All Around Cowgirl. Ali Armstrong of Lexington, Okla., won the championship in barrel racing, Alex Odle of Brush, Colo., took home the pole bending championship and Blair Bullock of McAlpin, Fla., won the breakaway roping championship. Kenzie Huffman of Strasburg, Colo., scored the goat tying championship and Laramie Eppler of Iowa Park, Texas, and Taylor Hurst of Navasota, Texas, worked together to earn the championship in team
roping. Marcus Theriot of Poplarville, Miss., earned the tie-down roping championship, Bridger Anderson of Carrington, N.D., won the championship in steer wrestling and Koby Radley of Montpelier, La., captured the championship title in bull riding. Blaise Freeman of Snyder, Texas, won the championship in saddle bronc riding and Paden Hurst of Navasota, Texas, earned the bareback riding championship.
“These athletes have put everything they’ve got into this rodeo and their hard work paid off,” said Michael Jackson, operations manager of the Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center and International Finals Youth Rodeo. “They came out to each performance and competed with their best effort. We congratulate all of our champions and wish the best of luck to all of our contestants.”
The International Finals Youth Rodeo, founded in 1993, is a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization that presents top high school athletes with a professional rodeo. The internationally-recognized IFYR is held annually at the Heart of Oklahoma Exposition Center in Shawnee. For more information visit IFYR.com or call (405) 275-7020.
All Around Cowgirl Shelby Lankford
Shelby Lankford from Blanchard, Okla., had no idea she was in the running for the All Around title. “I was in there picking up my check for second in the breakaway and fourth in the goat tying and my mom came in and told me.” This is her first All Around Championship. “I think it’s pretty cool, but it was definitely unexpected.” She competes in goat tying and breakaway roping for the Oklahoma High School Rodeo and will head to Rock Springs in breakaway roping. This is her second time at the IFYR and she won the goat tying last year. Lankford is putting her money in the bank and the 16-year-old will continue coming to the IFYR for the next two years. “I was sitting first coming into the breakaway and missed the barrier, so I was second with a 2.8. She was fourth in the short round in the goats. I was down and out after the breakaway, but it all worked out in the end.” Lankford has been competing in rodeos for as long as she can remember and plans to continue.
All Around Cowboy Brett Stuart
Brett Stuart from Bridgeport, Texas, claimed the All Around title for the 2015 IFYR. “I was planning on staying aggressive in the final round and not backing down any,” Stuart said. “I knew I was in a close race with Tyler Milligan. Before the team roping, we were $700 apart and after I roped my calf we were $1,900 apart.” The 17-year-old competes in calf roping, team roping, and steer wrestling. This is his second IFYR and he didn’t make the short go last year. “I was way more aggressive this year and was focused when I got here. The mud played a role on some people, but that’s part of rodeo, you’ve got to cowboy up.” Brett bulldogged both his steers in the mud and admits that he only had one dry ground the whole time. He has won six All Around Championships so far as well as the National Junior High Champion Chute Dogger in 2013 and champion team roper in 2012 and he plans to rodeo in college while pursuing a degree in business. He is going to be a junior at Paradise High School and spends his free time practicing rodeo. He is the only one in his family that competes in rodeos and his dedication to practice has paid off. He has won $25,000 in amateur rodeos last year. “I don’t play any sports,” Stuart said. “Rodeo is my fun.”
Bareback Riding Champion Paden Hurst
Paden Hurst, from Navasota, Texas, is the 2015 IFYR Bareback Champion covering all three horses and coming back with a 72.5 in the short go. He never looks at the draw. “That horse was jumping long and moving out from under me.” He handled it by “lifting and setting my feet.” Hurst didn’t do any sports in school. “I’ve been working since I could drive,” said the all around hand at MidTex Livestock. “I do a little bit of everything from feeding to sorting.” He’s been riding bareback horses for ten months. “I’ve ridden bulls my whole life and wasn’t able to get on for three years because I broke my riding wrist.” He was finally able to ride again and entered in both bulls and bareback. “I still ride bulls. But I didn’t ride here because I didn’t want to mess anything up on the bulls heading to Rock Springs.” He entered bareback and saddle bronc riding at the IFYR. Hurst just graduated from Anderson High School with 32 other seniors. He will head to National High School finals in the bareback riding and spend the rest of the summer hitting amateur rodeos with his traveling partners, Lane McGehee and his cousin, Taylor Hurst, who took home the IFYR Championship in team roping. This fall, Hurst is going to Wharton County Junior College to study accounting. “I plan to own a bank one day.”
Saddle Bronc Champion Blaise Freeman
Blaise Freeman from Snyder, Texas, has been riding saddle broncs for three years. The 18-year-old graduated from Borden County High School and is going to Western Texas College. “I grew up being babysat by Cody and Heith DeMoss’s mom and they gave me a bronc saddle and it started clicking from there. I was scared to death to get on one the first couple times,” Freeman said. He competes in team roping with his younger brother at the high school rodeo. He is going to use the money he won at the IFYR to keep entering rodeos. “I’ve always wanted to win this rodeo – it’s a big stepping stone in my career. The stock here was great – it was an even pen.”
Tie-Down Champion Marcus Theriot
Marcus Theriot has dominated in the rodeo world for seven years. This is his fourth trip to Shawnee and his second championship here. The All Around cowboy from Poplarville, Miss., is attending college online and shooting for the National Finals Rodeo next year. He has been recruited by several schools, but is going to wait until he’s made a run for the NFR. He is going to concentrate on tie-down roping. “I’ve been tie-down roping all my life and feel like that’s what I’m most experienced in.” Theriot is competitive in team roping, steer wrestling and tie-down roping and has won numerous All Around titles as well as event championships from the junior high to the high school. The cowboy has at least 20 saddles and cases of buckles. “This is a huge rodeo and it’s really competitive,” Theriot said. He started rodeo when he was in kindergarten and plans to do it for the rest of his life.
Steer Wrestling Champion Bridger Anderson
Bridger Anderson from Carrington, N.D., was sitting first going into the short go. “I was going out to make the best run I can make, that’s my game plan for every steer wrestling run, that’s the best a guy can do. It worked for me.” Anderson will give the money to mom for entry fees. He is going to be a junior at Carrington High School and will head to Rock Springs to compete at the NHSFR in the steer wrestling and tie-down roping. He entered the IFYR in the steer wrestling, tie-down roping and team roping. “There were only two of us from North Dakota – it’s a long haul.” Anderson has been jumping off a steer since eighth grade and has had his current dogging horse for a year and a half.
“This is an extremely good rodeo; well put on and competitive. Everyone can compete at this rodeo and do well.” Anderson trains horses and rodeos, dedicating a lot of time to both. He plans to get an education and rodeo, working towards being a world champion. He told his mother since he was three that he planned to be a steer wrestling world champion. That goal hasn’t changed.
Barrel Racing Champion Ali Armstrong
Back to back Barrel Racing Champion, Ali Armstrong from Lexington, Okla., is riding a horse that took her to the pay window in all three goes both years. Panama has been her go-to horse for four years. “We clicked from the beginning,” Armstrong said. “He was my match.” She has two more years to defend that title and plans to do just that. She has been competing in rodeos for nine years and doesn’t get nervous, but checking in for the IFYR this year was a different feeling. “Whenever we were checking in, I was really calm, but Monday came around and I was starting to get nervous. As soon as I started warming Panama up though, my nerves went away. It’s just another run, another rodeo.” Armstrong has been homeschooled for three years. The switch came because she wanted to focus more riding horses and going to rodeos. “You really have to be self-disciplined to get all the homework done and that discipline has helped me in the sport of rodeo.”
Breakaway Roping Champion Blair Bullock
Blair Bullock from McAlpin, Fla., won the Breakaway Roping Championship. “I love this rodeo,” Bullock said. “It’s fun and there are always jackpots, practices and I get to meet a lot of new people.” She admits it was tough in the rain this year. “I’ve roped in the mud before. It’s the luck of the draw, rain or shine, you just do it.” Bullock lives in north Florida, about an hour from Georgia, and says there are a lot of people that rope in her neck of the woods. “I knew I was going to have to rope right there and do it,” Bullock said of her final run. “I had to be quick. I was 2.1. I always say I don’t want to rope for money, I want to rope for the big deal. I saw my calf on the film and he looked like a good calf, and I’ve got a good horse to put me there. It was all up to me.” Bullock didn’t make the trip to Shawnee last year, but made it the previous two years. “This is the first time I made the short round, I was pretty excited.” Bullock competes in several events, but is planning to narrow it down to team roping and breakaway roping. She has been roping since she was in sixth grade. She also plays guard in basketball and will continue her education at the University of West Alabama on basketball and rodeo scholarships. “It’s a lot of hard work. I remember playing a game one night, and my dad picking me up with a horse and driving all night to rodeo. “She plans to spend part of her earnings on her horse. “She deserves it.”
Goat Tying Champion Kenzie Huffman
Kenzie Huffman, from Strasburg, Colo., took the Goat Tying Championship. “I drew good,” admits the 18-year-old graduate of Strasburg High School. “I didn’t think there was any way I was going to win it, Mia was ahead of me by half a second. Her goat was wild, and it worked in my favor.” Huffman has been tying goats since she was six and competes in breakaway and barrel racing as well. “I like goats better for sure today,” Huffman said. “I like breakaway too.” Huffman is a fourth year veteran at the IFYR and this is her first win, after making the short go her freshman year in the goats. She was sitting second in the short go and she claims that her discipline of tying goats every day has helped her along the way. She says that her goat horse is not fond of all the noise here, but she tried to take him over where it was quiet and keep him chilled out. “I’m going to save my money for college,” she said of her winnings. She is going to college in Gillette, Wyo., for the scholarship and rodeo program. She plans to study business marketing. She is headed to Rock Springs in breakaway roping, goat tying, and cutting and after that she will amateur rodeo until school starts. She also has her permit and plans to work towards that as well.
Pole Bending Champion Alex Odle
Alex Odle was sitting fourth in the short go in the poles and it all worked out. The 2015 IFYR Pole Bending Champion is also going to serve as a Youth Director for the next year. “I didn’t think I had a chance,” said the 17-year-old from Brush, Colo. “I knew I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. Mom told me to run hard. Don’t be safe, run hard, but be smart.” It was a tough week for the pole benders at Shawnee. “The first round was perfect ground,” Odle said. “The second round I knew the mud might pull me in, but it was out of my control.” Alex has been competing in rodeos since she was 8, and belongs to the CJRA and the CSHSRA. She is headed to National High School Finals after this, and this is her third year competing in the IFYR. “I never made it to the short round,” she said. She competes in barrel racing, pole bending and breakaway roping. “I’m happy to be here.” Odle is also excited to be a youth director. “I want to be a voice for all the youth and make it the best and be more involved.” She is looking forward to being more involved with the IFYR and sees this opportunity as a way to help her with other things in life. Odle will keep the money she won in the checkbook to help with rodeo entries for the rest of the summer and her upcoming fair. She will be a senior next year and plans to rodeo in college. “I have to choose between softball and rodeo. I’m picking rodeo,” she said.
Bull Riding Champion Koby Radley
Koby Radley from Montpelier, La., has been riding bulls for seven years. He was the only contestant this year to cover all three bulls. “It was a tough pen of bulls,” Radley said. The 17-year-old will be a senior this year at Park View Baptist and plans to continue his education. He started riding bulls for the adrenaline rush and plans to continue. “My cousins always did it and I started.” He is going to take his money and save it. This is his second IFYR, and he plans to return.
Team Roping Champions Laramie Eppler and Taylor Hurst
Laramie Eppler, from Iowa Park, Texas, has been roping with Taylor Hurst, from Navasota, Texas, for at least five years. They met each other through their dad’s who were friends. They are the 2015 IFYR Champion Team Ropers. They live 350 miles apart, and rope together at junior rodeos and high school rodeos. Eppler just graduated from high school and plans to go to school at Texas A&M for Agriculture Business. “Our game plan was to just catch and rope smart but be as fast as we could,” said Eppler. The team came back high call. “We needed to be clean but we had no idea what we had to be.” He is going to take the first semester off from rodeo and focus on his grades. “Winning this has been a long time coming,” he said. His roping partner, 17-year-old Hurst, has one more year of high school and this is his first year at the IFYR. “We’ve both worked hard for this and it’s great to see the work pay off. It means the world to me. My cousin, Paden Hurst, also took home a championship here in bareback riding.”