By: Jolee Jordan
Hali Williams had barely reached double digits on the calendar when she pretty much figured it all out.
Just about ten years old at the time, the daughter of eight-time Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) World Champion Header Speed Williams was competing in a multi-day softball tournament. After three days out in the freezing wind, competing all day until deep into the night, she and her teammates received their award for winning — a small trophy.
Williams had recently come from a team roping event where she won $2,500.
“I asked my dad, ‘will this thing even buy me a hamburger?” said Williams, who is now 16 years old. “I was putting a lot of work into softball, spending a lot of time.”
The elder Williams noted that softball might provide a way to pay for college through scholarships eventually but the intelligent youngster saw it another way.
“I said, ‘don’t they give scholarships for rodeo, too?’”
Williams soon let her teammates know she was taking a break from the sport and she never went back. She’d tried gymnastics before softball, earning a spot on the Junior Olympics team, but roping was in her blood. Both her mom, Jennifer, and her dad rope and that’s how they met; Hali was actually born the day her dad won his seventh gold buckle in the team roping.
Now, Williams and her fellow roping sisters stand poised to earn more than ever at the inaugural Women’s Rodeo World Championships (WRWC), hosted by the World Champions Rodeo Alliance (WCRA) and Professional Bull Riders (PBR). The event will pay out $750,000 to ladies competing in team roping, breakaway roping and barrel racing, including $60,000 to the winner of each discipline.
That will buy a lot of hamburgers.
“It’s an amazing opportunity,” said Williams. When the event kicks off November 8-15 in Fort Worth at Will Rogers Memorial Center, she’ll be packing her breakaway rope, competing in a sport it took some time for the avid team roper to warm up to.
“Growing up, my dad tried to get me into breakaway roping but I was just adamant that I only wanted to team rope. I wanted to be just like my dad,” she laughed. “When I got into junior high school rodeo, he told me I needed to breakaway for the all around.”
Finally relenting, Williams gave it a try and after just a few days, she was hooked. And with the explosion of breakaway roping, and it’s growth into pro rodeo, she has a new goal to make a living with her ropes.
“Breakaway is becoming more mainstream now. I’m fueled up for when I turn 18,” she said. To compete in Women’s Pro Rodeo Association (WPRA) breakaway ropings at PRCA rodeos, a competitor must be 18 years old.
Luckily, the age restrictions are much lower at just 13 years old for the WCRA events including the Women’s Rodeo World Championships. Williams is taking full advantage of the WCRA’s innovative ideas for competition including its Challenger Division, a tiering system developed by WCRA to allow competitors to compete against others of similar skill level, leveling the playing field for all.
Contestants are deemed Challengers based upon their earnings over the past three seasons. They benefit at events like the WRWC by competing against other Challengers in their own separate pools during preliminary rounds.
Select Challenger Division qualifying events also offered Fast Track positions at the WRWC. Fast Track pool competitors can earn a direct advancement to the Main Event, the last step before the Championship Rounds. Those rounds will feature the top 6 from the Main Event and will be held in conjunction with the PBR World Finals at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Williams earned a Fast Track position with a win at the Oklahoma’s Richest Roping’s Boot Barn WCRA Rodeo Challenger event held in Guthrie in mid-October.
“I was planning to go to the Rope for the Roses and I saw that the Oklahoma’s Richest was just a couple of days prior to that,” said Williams, “so I planned to go up early for that.”
WCRA officials encouraged her to enter the Challenger event prior to the open breakaway roping in Guthrie. “I had to lay off my good horse so I thought it would be a chance to get a feel on my second string horse before the open.”
“I really had no idea how big a deal it was,” Williams admitted. “I was just thinking I’d get a few warm up runs on my horse.”
Roping against 41 ladies, Williams placed second and fourth in the opening rounds before winning the short go to cinch the victory in the average. Along with a paycheck worth $1,705, she picked up the Fast Track qualification to Fort Worth and will have her entry and stall fees paid for the big event.
With the win, Williams now has three chances to make her way to the $60,000 payday at the WRWC. She also earned a position through the WCRA Leaderboard and entered the Open to the World Qualifier Rounds.
“Hopefully I don’t have to use all of them,” she joked. Competing at AT&T Stadium would be a dream for the young roper. “I went with my dad for the first The American Rodeo there when he was invited to compete. I just remember sitting in the stands and the atmosphere was incredible. The chance to compete there would be amazing.”
Though the WRWC offers a $20,000 bonus to the All Around Cowgirl, Williams will be focusing on breakaway only in 2020. At high school rodeos, she currently competes in breakaway roping, barrel racing and pole bending; her main team roping partner decided not to attend the high school rodeos this year.
“It all depends on the setup—I call it my personal preference of the day,” she joked when asked if breakaway or team roping was her favorite. “Breakaway is a newer sport to me, I was used to going to the USTRC and World Series team ropings so this is just new, and I don’t know a lot of people on the breakaway side yet.”
“What I like about the breakaway, though, is that whether I do good or not all depends on me,” she added. “It’s all on me and my horse to get the job done.”
Work ethic would never be a problem for the home schooled sophomore. Her dad gives roping schools at the house and the family ropes every day.
“My dad retired from rodeo in 2010 and he became sort of a stay-at-home dad from then on,” she said. “He started speedroping.com so he could teach on-line and starting doing his schools here at our home so he could be with us.”
“He is an important fixture for us and it was nice that he wasn’t always on the road.”
Williams also has the benefit of having one of the world’s best as her teacher and coach.
“He doesn’t give many pep talks and doesn’t really show much emotion whether I do good or bad,” she said, noting he often waits until the family is in the truck headed home to talk about the competition. “He taught us to look at every run, good or bad, as a learning opportunity.”
One piece of advice that resonated with Williams was to trust your plan.
“He always says, when you make a plan, go with it and trust it. Know your start and your calf and don’t second guess yourself because things won’t go well when you do.”
With the growth of breakaway roping in recent years, Williams hopes to be able to make a living with her rope, going to pro rodeos and working big team roping events as well. Of course, she’ll continue to compete in the WCRA. “I definitely want to learn more about the WCRA events and will try to go to more of them in the future.”
As a backup plan, she hopes to attend nursing school and work in pediatrics or neonatal intensive care units.
In the meantime, she’s focused on winning one of the first Women’s Rodeo World Championship titles, roping every day to prepare to win. Her determination and dedication to her sport is summed up well with one statement. When asked what she does for fun, the teenager had a quick answer.
“Rope. Or, if we’re not roping, going someplace to rope.”
The Women’s Rodeo World Championship will be held in Fort Worth at the Will Rogers Memorial Center on November 8-12 with Qualifier Rounds, Main Event Top 24 & Top 12 before moving to AT&T Center in Arlington for the Main Event Top 6 Championship Round. WCRA Leaderboard Pool late entries open November 2 at and close November 6 at 5 P.M. All times are Central.