EAST ROCHESTER, Ohio – The transmission on Nikki Bacon’s red convertible LeBaron went out a few weeks ago, and the 16-year-old already has detailed plans on the vehicle she’d like to replace it: a new black Dodge pick-up, complete with extended cab, diesel engine, and duals. And one more requirement: it’s got to have a hitch to pull a horse trailer.
Most people wouldn’t expect such a request from a petite blonde teen, but Bacon is not your ordinary girl. The East Rochester, Ohio, teen is the 2001-2002 Ohio High School Rodeo Association Queen and recently-appointed member of the coveted national Wrangler High School All Star Rodeo Team.
No regrets. Last spring, when friends at United Local High School were planning for prom, she was busy making plans of her own – plans that involved horses, traveling hundreds of miles, visions of belt buckle trophies and missing the event many girls view as one of the biggest nights of high school life.
But missing special events – not to mention quitting the school’s basketball and cross country teams to focus on her competition – isn’t something she regrets.
“Sometimes I wish I could still play, but I know that rodeo will take me farther, and I’ll have that with me all my life,” she said.
Bacon, whose family lived on a dairy farm until four years ago, got her start in rodeo at age 8 as a 4-H barrel racer. In junior high, she became a member of the National Little Britches Rodeo Association, which provides rodeo opportunities for youth 8-19.
She also learned of more rodeo opportunities through her 4-H club and the school’s FFA program, and got hooked when she saw her first Ohio High School Rodeo Association rodeo while taking a break from showing dairy cattle at the state fair.
Events. Four years later, the young lady’s face lights up when she talks about her events: breakaway roping, barrels, and goat tying.
In the roping event, Bacon’s goal is to throw her rope as fast as she can, since winning times often fall into the 2 to 3 second range.
From atop her horse, she’s got to pursue a 200- to 400-pound calf, throw her rope around its neck, and bring her horse to a stop. The rope is tied to Bacon’s saddle with a piece of string and when the horse stops, the calf continues to run and the string breaks. The flagger drops his flag and the time clock stops.
“So far my best time is a 2.9, but you always try to get better. A lot of it depends on the situation, though,” she said. “You never know what the calf will do.”
“Barrels are definitely the easiest, and the most fun,” Bacon said of the event that got her into the rodeo lifestyle. Participants race the clock as they run a set pattern around three barrels.
“I’ve been doing barrel racing since I was 8, and I’ve been through four good horses. Still, it’s the hardest to get awards in the event because it seems like everyone does barrels,” she said.
The competitions are so intense that electronic timers are used and the times are recorded in the hundredths of a second. Penalties are assessed for knocking a barrel over, and if the rider negotiates a pattern incorrectly, he’s disqualified.
Against the clock. Bacon’s favorite event, however, is goat tying.
“It is a lot of fun, and the roughest event for girls,” she said, “and it lets me be aggressive.”
In the event, a goat is staked to a rope at one end of the arena. The contestant rides into the opposite end of the arena, jumps off of their horse and ties the goat’s legs with a string, all while racing against the clock.
“When I go in to do tying, I get down and dirty,” she said. Her best time for the event is 8.6 seconds, and “a time of 7 or 8 will put you in Nationals.”
Last year, she competed at the national finals in Springfield, Ill., a level of competition some participants never reach. High school students from 39 states, including Hawaii, as well as Canada and Australia, make up the more than 1,000 competitors advancing from state contests to the event.
Her first-go time – under 10 seconds – placed her 18th of 170 competitors and advanced her to the next round in the goat tying event. Unfortunately, she “completely biffed” and things didn’t go well in the second go-round.
“The best thing about rodeo is you can’t argue with the clock,” she said. “If your time is good enough, you’re in. If not, try next time.”
National award. Her high state placings, combined with her leadership qualities, academics, and athletic and rodeo achievements, cleared her a space on the national Wrangler team. Only underclassmen who finish at the top of their event in statewide competition are eligible.
Besides the prestige of the honor, Bacon received official competition shirts embroidered with the team logo and Wrangler jeans. She also received an official team certificate signed by rodeo greats Jim Shoulders and Ty Murray.
She was also elected to serve as the state association’s president, but had to give up the office when she was chosen queen.
Royalty. “You’ve got to work hard, but it’s fun,” she said of her responsibilities. Year-round opportunities to travel to rodeos and events to represent the state organization, in addition to her own competitions, fill her schedule. Bacon estimates she participates in nearly 30 rodeos a year.
“There’s a lot of travel involved, but I get to meet girls and other queens from everywhere. It’s cool when you’re somewhere and someone just comes up to you and starts talking,” she said of the instant bond formed between rodeo competitors and queens from around the globe.
“It’s also really cool to be asked for your autograph,” she said.
After being crowned state queen, Bacon advanced to the national competition – a pageant that also involves components of speech and presentation; modeling, personality and appearance; a written test on high school rodeo rules; and a horsemanship test to determine a queen’s rodeo skills.
“The national contest is really incredible. Everything has to be just right, and it’s almost like if your belt, jeans and boots don’t match, you can forget it,” she said.
Entourage. Luckily, she has an entourage – parents Beth and Gordon Bacon – to help her at each contest. Beth serves as a fashion coordinator and “runs around a lot to get everything ready,” while Gordon, a former truck driver, coordinates transportation.
“It’s actually pretty nice. I get in the truck and dad does all the driving. I don’t ask any questions, and when I wake up, we’re there,” she said.
Brother Craig, 20, helps at home when he can.
Other competitors are like family, too. Pennsylvanian Ross Parsons practices with Bacon, and she often travels with fellow Wrangler team member Andrew McCambridge of New Springfield, Ohio.
Most Ohio contests are scheduled either in Middlefield or Columbus, since the sport is still gaining momentum in the region.
“It’s still not that popular here, but out West, it’s like what football is here,” Bacon said. She hopes the sport continues to grow in Ohio and Pennsylvania and encourages others to get involved.
“You’ve got to put a lot of time into the sport, but it pays off,” she said. Bacon practices tying and riding four hours a few times a week at an indoor facility during the winter, and at least four hours a day during the summer.
Supporters. “It’s hard not to support her when she does this well, no matter what the expense,” said Gordon Bacon.
“I don’t ride and don’t plan on starting, but I’ll do whatever I can to help her with rodeo. She loves it, and we’re proud,” he said.
Aside from excelling at the sport, Bacon also shines in the classroom. She serves on the school’s student council, and is involved with the Tech Prep computer science program at Kent State University. She hopes to attend Texas Tech and ride on the school’s rodeo team, and someday become a computer network administrator – a job that will hopefully help support her rodeo habit.
“I’ve got my fingers crossed that it all works out. I’d love to be able to work and still have time for rodeos,” she said.
* * *
In addition to Nikki Bacon, other Ohio students appointed to the 2001-2002 Wrangler High School All Star Rodeo Team include:
Andrew McCambridge, New Springfield
Joshua Weisel, Louisville
Ashley Wells, Hubbard
Randi Forrer, Dalton
Adam Cole, Sabina
Brookston Taylor, Ostrander
Buff Bockus, Grove City
Craig Allread, Piqua
Danny Thompson, Junction City
Donald Hope, Wilmington
Jacob Lindimore, McConnelsville
James Cody Hall, DeGraff
Jeremiah Tucker, Mount Gilead
Tony Postlethwait, Byesville
Amanda Stingle, Smithfield
Cassie Shaeffer, Amanda
Jamy Mc Quillan, Celina
Laura Folsom, Rock Creek
Keystoners. Members of the team from Pennsylvania include:
Ross Parsons, Georgetown
Karl Adams, New Castle
David Ballantyne, Elverson
Jake Ebersole, York
Jason Harder, York Springs
Jeremy Brocious, Harrisburg
Justin Rhoads, Johnstown
Kyle Hannon, East Berlin
Mike Smith Jr., McVeytown
Shane Kuhn, Gettysburg
Ashley Carrier, Eighty Four
Carrie Hackenberger, Mifflin
Jamie Keane, Bradford
Jenna Renee Miller, Shartlesville
Kasey Arnold, Annville
Kayla Edwards, Harbor Creek
Stefanie Foor, Beavertown
* * *
DENVER – The National High School Rodeo Association was created by Texas educator and rodeo contestant Claude Mullins, and the group held its first finals in 1949.
Mullins founded the association on two principles: to encourage youth to stay in school and to promote the highest type of conduct and sportsmanship. The association stresses the importance of education and teaching life skills such as leadership, responsibility, dedication and commitment.
One of the fastest growing youth organizations in the nation, the NHSRA has an annual membership of more than 12,500 students from 39 states, four Canadian provinces and Australia, and sanctions over 1,200 rodeos each year. The NHSRA is governed by a national board of directors, one from each state or province, and statewide affiliates exist, including the Ohio High School Rodeo Association.
For more information on rodeo or how you can get involved, contact Ohio High School Rodeo Association member Nikki Bacon at 330-894-2749 or check out www.nhsra.org.
(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at email@example.com.)
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