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DUNCAN, Okla. â€“ Andrew and Reagan Wardâ€™s goal was simple from the start: Get to Duncan in October, then move on.
While the mindset was straightforward, the path was steeped with landmines. From roping competitors to tough-to-handle steers to long drives and little sleep, there have been many challenges in the 2014 season for the team roping brothers from Edmond, Okla.
The Wards have secured the first step of their plan, qualifying for the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16-18 at the Stephens County Fair and Expo Center in Duncan. The next step is to perform well in the arena and earn spots in the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, which will take place next spring in Ocala, Fla.
â€śWhat weâ€™d really like to do is to make it to Florida,â€ť said Reagan Ward, 27, the No. 1 heeler in the Prairie Circuit, the ProRodeo region made up of events and contestants primarily in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. â€śI donâ€™t care if we win the year-end or the circuit finals average, but the goal is to get to Florida.â€ť
Only the year-end and average champions in each event qualify for the national championship, which will feature the top two contestants in each event from each of the 12 circuits nationwide.
â€śThatâ€™s why we go to rodeos; weâ€™re trying to make it to Florida,â€ť said Andrew, 24, who has virtually clinched the regionâ€™s heading year-end title. â€śWe went to more circuit rodeos just trying to make it to Florida.
â€śYou want to do good at the circuit finals. Weâ€™ve (finished) second in the average two years in a row and didnâ€™t go to as many circuit rodeos as we did this year.â€ť
The Wards have done quite well over the last few seasons, and this year is no exception with each earning more than $16,500 in circuit cash through labor Day. They won rodeos in Woodward, Okla.; Hastings, Neb.; and Topeka, Kan. They also fared well at big-money Kansas rodeos in Dodge City and Phillipsburg. Andrew owns a $5,700 lead over the No. 2 header, Troy Boone of Mutual, Okla.; Reaganâ€™s lead is just $1,100 over Billie Saebens of Nowata, Okla.
â€śGetting to Duncan and giving us a chance to win the average is important for us,â€ť Reagan said. â€śItâ€™s just important that we go in there and catch three.â€ť
The circuit finals features three go-rounds, and the team that posts the fastest three-run cumulative score will be crowned average champion. Each dollar counts, too, with the seasonâ€™s top money-earners at the conclusion of the finale winning the year-end titles.
â€śWeâ€™re just trying to get better while competing in the circuit,â€ť Andrew said. â€śThat way you can stay closer to home and keep your money around while still rodeoing.â€ť
Whatâ€™s even better is that the siblings do it together.
â€śHeâ€™s really the only guy Iâ€™ve ever roped with,â€ť Reagan said of his younger brother. â€śItâ€™s still fun. We high school rodeoed together and college rodeoed together.
â€śI think one of the reasons weâ€™ve been successful is because of the work weâ€™ve put in together. Iâ€™ve got a lot of confidence in him.â€ť
That assurance goes both ways.
â€śWe really donâ€™t know anything different,â€ť Andrew said. â€śItâ€™s fun when we win, because weâ€™re winning double.â€ť
The brothers are just two of the circuit standings leaders with about two weeks remaining in the 2014 season. Other leaders are bareback rider Caine Riddle of Vernon, Texas; steer wrestler Cole Edge of Durant, Okla.; saddle bronc rider Wade Sundell of Boxholm, Iowa; barrel racer Gretchen Benbenek of Aubrey, Texas; tie-down roper Jerome Schneeberger of Ponca City, Okla.; steer roper Chet Herren of Pawkhuska, Okla.; and bull rider Sage Kimzey of Strong City, Okla.
Theyâ€™re all locked to compete during the finale in Duncan, a showcase of the greatest ProRodeo stars in the game aligned in one three-night championship.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. â€“ Every move made inside the American Royal complex is specifically designed for the associationâ€™s mission.
As the foundation that holds the footing for everything involved in the American Royal and its fall festival, the mission is to promote and celebrate the excellence in agricultural progress and develop future generations of leaders through agrarian values, disciplines and expressions of skills.
â€śAt the heart of what the American Royal does is as a childrenâ€™s charity,â€ť said Bob Petersen, the American Royalâ€™s president and CEO, explaining that the associationâ€™s purpose is to provide scholarship, education, awards and competitive learning experiences that reward hard work, leadership skills and agrarian values.
â€śWe are very proud that we provide more than a million dollars every year for youth and education, and we are equally proud of the variety of ways we do that.â€ť
This year marks the American Royalâ€™s 115th year with its marquee event on the horizon. The fall festival begins in early September and runs for two and a half months, from various horse shows, livestock shows, youth events, rodeos and the World Series of Barbecue.
â€śLast year we had more than 270,000 people who came through our doors during the fall festival,â€ť Petersen said. â€śIn addition to that money going toward youth in Kansas City, having that kind of attendance is important to everything we do.â€ť
It also is important to Kansas City. The American Royal provides a substantial economic impact to the area. Thousands come to town to participate in the fall festival, and thousands more arrive to take in the festivities. Itâ€™s the perfect fit for its theme: â€śKansas Cityâ€™s Most Authentic Asset.â€ť
â€śWe have been around for more than a century, and weâ€™re looking to build on that history,â€ť Petersen said. â€śWe want everyone in Kansas City to know that the American Royal is more than our fall festival; the American Royal is Kansas City, and we want youth to benefit from everything we do.â€ť