By: Kendra Santos
The rodeo melting pot that is the World Champions Rodeo Alliance was on full display on opening night here at the December 15-18 Cowtown Christmas Championship Rodeo. Newly crowned 2021 world champions competed alongside young guns eager to make their own marks on rodeo’s record books. They’re all taking their best shot at the $360,000 on the line, which will leave town Saturday night in the happy hands of whoever shines brightest here in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards’ legendary Cowtown Coliseum.
Cajun cowboy Tyler Waguespack just won his third world steer wrestling championship, and after winning the Days of ’47 Cowboy Games & Rodeo in Salt Lake City this summer showed up with high hopes of claiming this second-straight title and taking aim at the $1 million Triple Crown of Rodeo bonus offered by the WCRA to any athlete who claims three consecutive majors.
“We left Las Vegas (where the 2021 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo wrapped up last Saturday night) on Sunday morning, made it back to (traveling partner and fellow champ of the world) Tyler Pearson’s place in Oklahoma to rest a minute, and here we are,” said Waguespack, who hangs his hat in Gonzales, Louisiana. “I’m just here trying to keep the ball rolling on that million. We don’t have a chance like this anywhere else.”
Waguespack broke the barrier on a scorching 3.73-second run, so he won’t be advancing to Saturday night’s Championship Round. But with runs done in 4.78 and 6.03 seconds, respectively, Nebraska up-and-comer Gus Franzen and Utah’s 18-year-old Cash Robb will be back. Robb is a college freshman at Texas A&M Commerce, and on the same day Waguespack was crowned world champ took the title of 2021 Ote Berry’s Junior Steer Wrestling World Championship World Champ at the Junior World Finals in Vegas. Just as Waguespack spent time at Hall of Famer Berry’s house early in his career, Robb’s been hanging out in Waguespack’s arena—and it shows.
“I’ve known Cash since he started bulldogging, and his family and mine have become good friends,” Waguespack said proudly. “I invited Cash to come down, he showed up, and he works harder than anybody else there. He reminds me a lot of me when I was his age. Cash wants to own that practice pen when he’s in it. He’s there to work, and he takes the time to learn, unlike most kids who have a lot of talent and are too hard-headed to listen.”
“I’m here to get my branding iron in the fire,” Cash smiled humbly. “The WCRA puts up good money, and this is a big stage that will help me mature as a bulldogger. It’s pretty special to be here competing with Tyler, who’s teaching me how to win. I’m just getting ready to really start my pro career. Events like this one are a big step for me, just coming out of high school and starting my college rodeo career.”
Brazilian-born Junior Nogueira won the World All-Around Crown five years ago in 2016. But the gold heeling buckle he’s dreamed of since he came to America to take a shot at it had eluded him until now. Nogueira and his header, Kaleb Driggers, realized their lifelong dreams last Saturday night. And they showed up and showed out with the win here last night, too, as their 4.69-second run topped all teams on opening night.
What a lot of people don’t know about Junior is that there’s a very special reason why he was yawning when he should have been whooping and hollering about last night’s win. His wife, Jaqueline; little girl, Isabella; and mom, Eliziane, were not in Vegas the last couple weeks for a reason. The Nogueiras’ second baby was due December 19—and he’s here, born Monday in Fort Worth!
“My family stayed behind in Texas, because our baby was due,” Junior said. “I left Las Vegas Sunday morning to come home, and stopped in Scottsdale to rest. But when they told me the baby was coming, I got on the first flight to DFW Monday morning out of Phoenix to get home.”
He got in a quick cat nap on the plane, then here came Jake Lucinei Gasparim Nogueira—a bouncing baby boy named after Junior’s late Brazilian dad, Lucinei, and adopted American dad, Jake Barnes.
“My dad died when I was 5,” said Junior, who qualified for his first NFR heeling for Hall of Famer Barnes. “When I came here to a new country with no horse, no money and no grasp of the language here, Jake Barnes took me in. Jake’s been like a dad to me, and I give him a lot of the credit for this gold (heeling) buckle.”
There are plenty of talented rodeo athletes you may or may not have heard of here also. Idaho’s Kenny Haworth and Texas teen Bradlee Miller went 1-2 in the bareback riding here last night. Haworth hasn’t traveled hard in recent times, because he’s been busy trying to heal up from torn MCL and PCL ligaments in his left knee; herniated discs in his neck; and a torn biceps muscle on his riding arm. Haworth and his wife, Chanel, who works for the National High School Rodeo Association, also have a four-month-old baby boy—Jaspur James—at home.
“The WCRA provides a great platform for all of us,” said Haworth, who advanced to Saturday night’s Championship Round with an 83-point ride last night. “They bring an even set of horses, so it’s an even playing field for all of us. It comes down to who rides the best at an event like this one.”
For all he’s been through physically courtesy of the brutal beating all bareback riders take in their event, Haworth has Jeremiah 29:11 embroidered on the back of his collar as a reminder.
“’For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord. ‘Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future,’” Haworth said. “I want my son to know that’s how I live, and that we should never doubt God’s plan and timing in life.”
Also advancing to Saturday’s grand finale in the bareback riding from opening night is Texas cowboy Bradlee Miller, 18, who’s the son of Sam Houston State University Rodeo Coach Bubba Miller and his wife, Tammy. Bradlee won $10,000 at a youth event right here in Cowtown Coliseum last summer.
“This building is really special to me,” said Miller, who like Cash Robb just finished his first semester of college; Miller at Sam Houston in his hometown of Huntsville. “I couldn’t wait to come back and be a part of this. I’ve youth rodeoed my whole life, but this is a level of rodeo I’ve never gotten to be a part of until now. I feel like this is a great next step for me.
“Riley Webb (who took a shot at the $1 million Triple Crown of Rodeo bonus last summer in Salt Lake City) and some of my other good friends have told me the WCRA is a great organization and opportunity to win a lot of money. So here I am. I’m sure excited to be here, and I can hardly wait for Saturday night.”