National High School Rodeo Association | Sports Destination Management

National High School Rodeo Association

An Interview with Gary Hawkes, Vice President of Marketing
May 01, 2023 | By: Gary Hawkes

The mission of the National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) is to promote the sport of rodeo and the highest level of conduct and sportsmanship and to expose its positive image to the general public. It also seeks to preserve the Western heritage, and to offer opportunities for family bonding, as well as for continuing education, all while maintaining the highest standards of care for livestock.

The organization traces its roots back to 1947, when the first State High School Championship Rodeo was held in Texas. The first national competition was held in 1949, when the NHSRA was founded. Today, the National High School Finals Rodeo features over 1,500 students on a regular basis.

The creation of the Junior High Division in 2004, for students in grades 5 through 8, brought in still more students. Today, NHSRA has members in 43 U.S. states and five Canadian provinces, as well as in Australia, Mexico and New Zealand.

Additionally, the National High School Rodeo Foundation organizes, manages, awards and pays out scholarships awarded by sponsors of the NHSRA.

Sports Destination Management: Rodeo is a growing sport.

Gary Hawkes: Yes, there’s definitely an awareness of it; we call it The Yellowstone Effect.

SDM: Do kids have to be on school teams in order to be members of NHSRA?

Hawkes: Some states and provinces do have clubs in their schools, but it is not required in order for the students to be members. Something we should point out is that in order to be members, kids do have to be enrolled in school and hold a grade point average of at least 70 percent.

SDM: How many individual members do you have and how many events do you put on?

Hawkes: This year, we have about 14,000 students, and with our states and provinces, we put on probably 1,900 rodeos a year, all of which are sanctioned by our organization. Those lead up to our National Finals which are really the Super Bowl of youth rodeo.

SDM: What events do your rodeos feature?

Hawkes: We offer all the core rodeo events; that being said, the animals that the high school students are using for roughstock events are not the same ones our junior high students are using. We also offer shooting sports: light rifle and trap shooting.

SDM: Do you see more boys or more girls competing?

Hawkes: It’s an even split.

Acentric Rodeo
Photos courtesy of Acentric Rodeo

SDM: What do you look for in a potential hosting destination for your National Finals?

Hawkes: We have a lot of requirements; we need a location with at least 2,000 campsites, four competition arenas, seating for everyone, the right number of stalls – I would say we tend to rotate around to certain places. We have some we keep coming back to, like Gillette and Rock Springs, Wyoming; Lincoln, Nebraska, the Lazy E in Edmond and Des Moines, Iowa. We like the centralized locations because they make it easier for people to travel.

SDM: It sounds like a big undertaking. What is the economic impact generally like for your National Finals?

Hawkes: When we were in Lincoln in 2021, a study was done that showed we brought in just shy of $18 million. One of the most important facts about our organization is that we have awarded $1.9 million in scholarships, due in large part to our partners and sponsors but also to our foundation and our other supporters. We really emphasize
education, whether that means college or a trade school.


SDM: Do you find that rodeo is a family event, meaning that more kids get into it because they have grown up around it?

Hawkes: It’s definitely a family-based event. You travel to rodeos with your family, so you spend a lot of time together. We like to emphasize that point. There are maybe 10 percent of kids who are first-generation rodeo but overall, kids tend to get into it because they have grown up around that lifestyle. SDM

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