Out of the chute: High school rodeo season underway in Arizona

Nov 4, 2013, 6:44 AM | Updated: 6:44 am

PHOENIX — Jessilee James looks every bit a rodeo veteran as she and her horse thunder from the start gate and weave through a line of poles in the arena, then weave back through to the finish line.

“You and the horse are going to be a team together,” James said. “It’s just you and him or her against everybody in the rodeo, you’re trying to beat everybody in the rodeo. It’s so much fun at the same time.”

On this day, before a crowd at the Arizona State Fair, she recorded the fastest pole-bending ride among 47 competitors, at 20.355 seconds. Last week, she was scheduled to return to class at Verrado High School in Buckeye, where she is a sophomore.

James, one of 200 student-athletes participating in the Arizona High School Rodeo Association’s 10-event circuit, has competed in pole bending, barrel racing and .22-caliber long rifle shooting for three years. Growing up riding horses led her to compete in the rodeo, she said.

“I couldn’t find a sport that I liked to play a lot, and I thought maybe rodeo would be a good idea,” she said. “Once I got into barrel racing I just loved it. It is just so much fun for me.”

The association organizes rodeos for junior high and high school entrants as far south as Sonoita and as far north as Cottonwood. The cowboys and cowgirls in the AHSRA come from all over the state, and a few are from neighboring states.

The State Fair rodeo was the second in the latest season, which culminates with junior high finals in May and high school finals in June.

Jack Assini, president of the AHSRA, said it is critical for participants to enter every rodeo because the top four students in each event go to the national rodeo at the end of the season. Junior high nationals are held in Des Moines, Iowa, and high school nationals are in Rock Springs, Wyo.

Students in the AHSRA aren’t allowed to receive a grade lower than a C in any class. During rodeos, participants are required to wear their assigned numbers even away from the arena, and if someone in the community reports bad behavior a contestant could lose the privilege of competing, Assini said.

“Most of these kids put in so much effort during the week, going to school and going home and then practicing and then coming to the rodeo, the last thing they can afford is missing one rodeo or being banned from one of the events,” he said.

Zoe Billings, AHSRA student president and a senior at Mayfield High School in Las Cruces, N.M.., serves as student ambassador for the organization, checking in contestants before the rodeo, helping to set up individual events and assisting younger riders along with her obligations as a participant.

“There’s a lot of responsibilities in rodeo, such as taking care of your animals,” she said. “If my parents are out of town or they can’t come with me to a rodeo, I have to do everything myself, and it prepares me for when I go off on my own I can do things on my own and not have to take such a big step.”

Burley White, a sophomore at Combs High School in Queen Creek, said he has made strong friendships through rodeo.

“I get along with everybody at school, but once you get here you always have those good friends that you know will always have your back,” he said.

James said the friendships extend into sportsmanship among the cowboys and cowgirls.

“Rodeo is just like a big family,” she said. “They always want to help you, be there for you and watch you, even if you are competing against them.”

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

Phoenix's police oversight office released its first reviews of the department's excessive force ca...

Office of Accountability and Transparency releases reviews of 2 Phoenix excessive force cases

Phoenix's police oversight office released its first reviews of the department's excessive force cases on Thursday.

51 minutes ago

This is the third time Pennington has been arrested in youth violence investigations. (Maricopa Cou...

Serena O'Sullivan

Gilbert police arrest suspect for third time in connection with youth violence

Jacob Pennington, 20, is accused of attacking a victim in September 2023. Earlier this week, Gilbert arrested a minor in the same case.

2 hours ago

(Photo by Rebecca Noble/Getty Images)...

Jim Sharpe

Meghan McCain won’t forgive Kari — but Lake better hope plenty of other moderates do

KTAR News host Jim Sharpe knows Meghan McCain won't forgive Kari Lake anytime soon, but the Senate candidate better hope moderate Republicans do.

4 hours ago

Split panel of a headshot of Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell on the left and the mugshot o...

Kevin Stone

NYC can have murder suspect after he’s tried in Arizona, Maricopa County attorney says

New York City authorities can get their hands on a man wanted for murder there after he’s been prosecuted for crimes in Arizona, Maricopa County Attorney Rachel Mitchell said Thursday.

5 hours ago

Gage Garrison, left, and Cody Kostoryz, right, were indicted on aggravated assault charges on Feb. ...

2 Gilbert youth violence suspects indicted in 2022 assault case; 3rd indicted on drug charges

Two Gilbert youth violence suspects have been indicted for their roles in a 2022 assault case, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office announced Thursday.

6 hours ago


Sponsored Content by Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.

Sponsored Articles


Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.


Collins Comfort Masters

Avoid a potential emergency and get your home’s heating and furnace safety checked

With the weather getting colder throughout the Valley, the best time to make sure your heating is all up to date is now. 


Canvas Annuity

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.

Out of the chute: High school rodeo season underway in Arizona