Clovis area high school rodeo competitors headed to nationals

From left to right: Cowgirls Hannah Steagall, Andee Poole and Taylor Strohl. (Photo by Valerie Shelton)

Several area high school athletes are headed to the national competition in Gillette, Wyoming next month after an impressive run at the California state finals held in Bishop June 10-16.

Andee Poole of Clovis, an incoming senior at Hallmark Charter School in Sanger, won State Goat Tying Champion and All Around Cowgirl for the second year in a row, bringing home a second two-horse trailer as her all around prize. The All Around Cowboy also went to a cowboy from California High School Rodeo Association (CHSRA) District 6, which includes kids from Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties. Lefty Holeman of Visalia, the all around winner, was also crowned Saddle Bronc Champion and Tie Down Champion.

Others headed to nationals include recent Clovis East High School graduate Reed Neely, who took third in the saddle bronc competition in Bishop; Taylor Strohl, a Clovis resident and incoming senior at Hallmark Charter School who won State Girls Cutting Champion; Hannah Steagall, an incoming senior at Sanger High School, who took fourth place in girls goat tying; Cole Dodds from Sanger who placed third in tie down; and Corinne Whitney of Exeter who placed fourth in the reined cow horse competition.

Reed Neely at the state finals in Bishop, CA. (Contributed photo)

Neely, who will be attending Fresno State in the fall on a full scholarship from Bronc Riders of California, said he is excited to head to nationals. Now the proud owner of a PRCA (Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association) card, he also plans to enter more pro-level rodeos, with the goal of showing at his hometown Clovis Rodeo in the future.

Whether he’s rodeoing for CHSRA District 6, the Fresno State Bulldoggers, or as a pro, Neely said he always wants to do his best to represent Clovis and his fellow CHSRA cowboys and cowgirls feel the same way.

“On all the trash cans and street signs in Clovis you see a bronc rider and a cowboy,” Neely said. “That is a symbol of Clovis. No one really notices that. No one thinks of Clovis as a rodeo town but we have one of the Top 10 rodeos in the nation. It’s a really prestigious rodeo. We’re a lot smaller than a lot of other rodeo towns and there is a lot more city here than there is rodeo places but we definitely try to aim for the image that Clovis portrays as a rodeo town and we’re trying to make that a bigger image.”

For Steagall, heading to nationals is about more than representing Clovis. Being a cowgirl or cowboy, she said means representing and promoting the sport of rodeo, which is often misunderstood by outsiders.

“Rodeo is so much more than it seems,” Steagall said. “For one, I want people to know that the animals are our top priority. Taking care of them is the most important thing.”

Rodeo, CHSRA District 6 members said, is also much more than a sport.

“Rodeo is a lifestyle,” Steagall said.

Each day, these young cowboys and cowgirls juggle caring for their horses and practicing hours every day with school work, social activities, and sometimes even extracurriculars on top of it all—Steagall, for instance, plays golf, while Poole is a track and field star in addition to a state rodeo champion.

“My schedule is get up early in the morning, ride horses, go to a class or two, do homework, go to another class or two, do practice for three plus hours, come home and ride horses, do homework, go to bed for a couple hours and wake up,” Poole said. “All of us have the craziest schedules ever.”

“What rodeo has taught me the most is how to juggle everything and not slack because in rodeo you can’t slack,” Steagall added. “If you slack, you’re not going to be successful. It also has taught me responsibility and the difference between competitiveness and poor sportsmanship because you have to be confident in yourself but you also can’t think you are better than everyone else.”

For Strohl, there is one word that describes the success of CHRSA District 6: dedication.

“It’s practice, practice, practice,” Strohl said.

Though only those that place in the top four in each event at state head to nationals, other cowboys from CHSRA District 6 who had an impressive run at state include Cobie Dodds of Sanger, who placed 19th in tie down and 14th in team roping; and Payson Holeman of Sanger, who placed 10th in boys cutting and 16th in saddle bronc.