BY: JUSTIN FELISKO
PUEBLO, Colo. – Word quickly began to spread throughout the Sprint Center on Friday night about a landscape-changing announcement that was about to happen involving women’s rodeo.
The Showdown Round of the WCRA’s Royal City Roundup in Kansas City, Missouri, had just begun, and PBR CEO Sean Gleason and WCRA CEO Gary McKinney had just announced a $750,000 Women’s Rodeo World Championship on CBS national television.
When the women competitors inside the Sprint Center got wind of the unexpected news, excitement began to brew.
17-time World Champion breakaway roper J.J. Hampton was one of the first women to be informed of the announcement, and her mouth dropped in astonishment.
“Oh my God! How amazing is that for us to even fathom,” Hampton said. “Breakaway roping and women’s rodeo has gotten so big, but for the PBR to get behind us, I really almost have no words. I mean, how exciting. I’ve been rodeoing my whole life. I’m 48 years old, and for me to still have the opportunity, me and several other older contestants, to rope with these kids for part of $750,000, unbelievable.
“This summer I won a pot and I won $25,000, so that’s been my biggest win, but this would blow it out of the water. It’s crazy.”
The two organizations announced the championship will be held on Nov. 3-7 at South Point Equestrian Center in Las Vegas.
This first-of-its-kind world championship is open to any female athlete in the world competing in breakaway roping, barrel racing and team roping.
The new Women’s Rodeo World Championship will award a minimum of $750,000 and name a champion in the individual disciplines of barrel racing, breakaway roping and team roping. There also will be a Women’s Rodeo All-Around Champion.
How exactly the money will be paid out has yet to be decided, but that did not hinder Hampton’s excitement level.
“The next few years will be so exciting for us,” Hampton said. “I don’t know what we’ll win, but it could be $100,000? $200,000? I mean, who knows what it’s going to pay or how they’re going to divide that up, but what a chance for the breakaway ropers to get to do that. That’s phenomenal.”
The marquee event will be held in Las Vegas during the 2020 PBR World Finals, which takes place seven miles away at T-Mobile Arena.
Nineteen-time World Champion breakaway roper Jackie Crawford’s eyes lit up when she was told about the upcoming opportunity.
“Oh, we are playing with fire going to Vegas,” Crawford said. “I like it. This is going to be awesome. What a cool deal just to be in that city. It is unreal.”
Qualifying positions will be open to all eligible women across the world. Ten riders will have direct paths to the Championship based on their final ranking on the WCRA leaderboard.
The event will begin with onsite open-qualifier rounds Nov. 3-5. Those ranked in the Top 10 from the open qualifier will advance to the championship on Nov. 6-7, where they’ll compete alongside the Top 10 from the WCRA leaderboard and an additional four competitors awarded special invites.
Crawford won $50,000 at the WCRA’s Windy City Roundup in Chicago last year.
She predicted then that the sky was the limit for breakaway roping and women’s rodeo, and she hoped that the WCRA was just the beginning.
“I hope this is just a stepping stone along the way,” Crawford said in Chicago. “I hope we get to do this a lot more on a lot bigger platforms than this. Well, I don’t even know if we can get a bigger platform than this. This is awesome. I hope this is just a little crack in the glass ceiling for breakaway ropers, and we have a big future ahead of us.”
Well, a $750,000 all-women rodeo for breakaway roping, team roping and barrel racing is certainly the next big platform to take center stage.
Crawford is thrilled to see an increase in prize money coming to fruition for women rodeo athletes.
“Just in the last year to two years, we have seen the floodgates open,” Crawford said. “To hear something announced like this, what else can we add that I cannot imagine? It is amazing what we have done already with the WCRA and RidePass, and having more faces and breakaway ropers and women being part of rodeo more.
“Little girls are starting to recognize that. You can see the transition that is going on. To add something like this, that has never been heard of, to give those women an opportunity and those little girls to dream about, that is big stuff.”
Not only is this new championship going to be monumental for the current group of women rodeo athletes, but the financial changes for female rodeo athletes are going to hopefully lead to an influx of young girls wanting to pursue a rodeo career when they grow up.
“It’s so cool, and we’ve worked so hard to get there, and we’ve got to thank the people before us that worked so hard,” seven-time World Champion breakaway roper Kelcie Chace said. “But it’s going to be cool to see the younger girls that don’t know any different but to go for big money. That’s the coolest thing to me, I think. The people under us, they’re not going to know anything but bigger and better places to go.”
Chace won $50,000 with her victory at the Royal City Roundup last weekend. If she can win two more consecutive WCRA $1 million Rodeos, she could win the WCRA Triple Crown of Rodeo $1 million bonus.
“I think it’s awesome,” Chace said of the growth of women’s rodeo. “It’s what we’ve always dreamed about, and now it’s getting to be pretty dang true, so it’s pretty cool.”
Two-time World Champion and 13-time NFR qualifier Brittany Pozzi Tonozzi won the $50,000 barrel racing title at the Royal City Roundup, and she too is in contention for the WCRA’s TCR Bonus.
Tonozzi has noticed the tremendous growth the WCRA has begun to offer women competitors.
“It is crazy the way rodeo has grown in the last couple of years with the WCRA, and the amount of money we can run at,” Tonozzi said. “Not only at the Majors, but also in the Semi Finals. To actually qualify to go to these rodeos, and only have to nominate rodeos we are already going to, the structure of this event is great for me and my family. We love it.”
The opportunity to compete during PBR Finals week in Las Vegas, and at a women’s rodeo with a purse of $750,000 and its own world championship, is something not to take lightly.
“That sounds amazing,” Tonozzi said. “The PBR is obviously an established event, and it will be great for the girls to be able to go and run at that kind of money and be able to tie in with the PBR. Obviously, I have been to the NFR and Vegas a lot, and it is hard to win $100,000 out there. To be able to go for one or two days and run for that kind of money would be amazing.”
The larger payouts, especially at the upcoming Women’s Rodeo World Championship, means there will be added attention and pressure on the women competing under the bright lights of the South Point Arena.
Crawford said that even a perennial championship contender like herself would be a tad bit nervous when she climbs aboard her horse if she qualifies for the massive event.
She is welcoming that pressure, though, with open arms.
“It seems kind of surreal,” Crawford said. “Is this really happening? I thought the biggest stage we would ever be on is some of our amateur rodeo finals. The first thing that happens when I walk into these arenas is my heart starts pounding, and I get this nervousness that I never felt before that I am having to deal with now because it is such a different thing.
“It is a totally different atmosphere. When you put that kind of money up in front of someone, I don’t care who you are. There is some nerves that get stirred up in your body because you know, it might not mean as much to some people, but for me, it is the words everyone says. It is life-changing. It is amazing. To win that amount of money, it would change my family’s life. We could do some big things with that. I don’t think you can fight back the emotions or the nerves or anything that comes with those opportunities.”