After a tough year, Shilah Williams to compete for title at National Junior High Rodeo
It’s been a tough year for rodeo, especially rodeo on the reservation.
Because of COVID-19 restrictions, rodeos on the reservation have been shut down for the last year and competitors have been forced to either compete off the reservation or not at all.
For many, including the Williams family of Tuba City, Arizona, rodeos are more than just a hobby, they are a way of life and now, Shilah Williams, an eighth grade student at Tuba City Boarding School, is recognizing her goal and will be competing for a national title June 20-26 at the 2021 National Junior High Finals Rodeo in Des Moines, Iowa.
Navajo youth competing at the National High School and Jr. High Rodeo June 20-26
• Shilah Williams — Girls Breakaway Roping (Year end 3rd Place, Finals Average Champion)
• John Boyd IV — Boys Breakaway Roping (Year end 4th Place)
• Oodessa Barlow — Girls Pole Bending (Year End 2nd Place)
• Colby Segay — Boys Breakaway(Year End 3rd Place), Jr Bull Riding, Boys Goat Tying (Year End 3rd Place)
• Gavin Warren — Boys Bareback Riding (Year End 2nd Place) , Boys Saddle Bronc Riding (Year End 3rd Place)
Shilah earned her place at the national event after placing in the top four in the Girl’s Breakaway Roping for the Arizona Junior High School Rodeo Association in May.
Shilah is one of five Navajo students from Arizona who qualified for the national competition. Joining her are Oodessa Barlow of Rock Point, Arizona and Colby Segay, John Boyd IV and Gavin Warren of Kayenta, Arizona.
Students will compete against ropers from around the U.S. and even as far away as Australia and Mexico. Shilah said she is excited and ready to compete.
“I’m a little nervous,” she said.
This isn’t her first rodeo.
She has competed through the Western Jr. Rodeo Association since she was a child.
In 2018, she competed at the Jr. National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Her father, Brandon Williams, is the president of the Western Jr. Rodeo Association and on a normal year schedules rodeos and events for junior rodeo competitors across the reservation.
Because rodeos are currently not allowed on the reservation, the Williams family made the decision last year to compete off the reservation through the Arizona Jr. High Rodeo Association.
“With everything that’s been going on and with nothing locally, we had to go out and find rodeos,” he said. “So that’s why we ended up trying the Arizona Jr. High Rodeo Association this year.”
Starting in September of 2020, Shilah competed in rodeos in Safford, Wilcox, Buckeye, Holbrook, Camp Verde, Payson and Sonoita.
“Our kids around here on the Rez are pretty tough, but it was different, just getting through the ranks of the competition,” Williams said. “We knew what it was like but we had never tried it before.”
Shilah agreed, stating she was up against well-trained horses and ropers.
“Most of the girls had really tough horses that knew how to stop and they were really fast. They would rope right out of the box too,” she said.
She said learning to rope as soon as her horse left the box was new for her.
“I tried to be consistent in roping the cow,” she said.
Traveling to Iowa for a rodeo is a new experience for them.
“The furthest I’ve ever been is Albuquerque and up to Wyoming, that’s about it,” Williams said. “We’re excited.”
“I think it’s going to be a long trip,” Shilah added.
Shilah plans to take her horse, Sissy, a 10-year-old buckskin mare, and believes she will be competitive for the national title.
“(I believe I have) about a 50-50 chance,” she said.
About the National Junior High Finals Rodeo
Featuring roughly 1,200 contestants from 44 states, five Canadian provinces, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico, the NJHFR is the world's largest junior high rodeo.
In addition to competing for more than $80,000 in prizes, NJHFR contestants will also be vying for more than $200,000 in college scholarships and the chance to be named a National Junior High Finals Rodeo World Champion.
To earn this title, contestants must finish in the top 20 – based on their combined times/scores in the first two rounds – to advance to Saturday evening’s final round. World champions will then be determined based on their three-round combined times/scores.
To follow local favorites at the NJHFR, visit www.NHSRA.com/juniorhighfinals daily for complete results.
Shilah will compete Tuesday morning and Thursday afternoon.
The future of Jr. rodeo on the reservation
Williams said he is optimistic rodeo will be allowed to return to the reservation.
“We’re hoping. That’s all we can do is hope,” he said. “We tried to continue to do rodeos off the reservation in Page, but we can’t do anything without the people who sponsor rodeos. If we try to do it ourselves it (costs) quite a bit and right now everybody is still struggling, so we decided not to do our season again — that’s two years for us.”
One concern with not holding rodeos for several years in a row is that youth on the reservation will begin to lose interest. Which is one reason Williams tried to get students in WJRA interested in competing off the reservation.
“There’s a lot of kids that I think have lost interest in rodeo. It was one of my goals to try to get rodeo going again — not here (on the reservation) but somewhere else that would allow it, but that didn’t happen for us,” he said.
Williams said that for his family, rodeo is an outlet and after more than a year of lockdowns, competing once again has been a blessing.
“We’re happy to be out there,” he said.
Williams said to afford the trip to Iowa, the family has had food sales and fundraisers.
Those interested in sponsoring Shilah can contact Williams at (928) 310-5089.
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