The name isn’t the only thing different about this year’s Junior World Finals in Las Vegas. Previously known as the Junior NFR, the Junior World Finals promises to be bigger and better in a number of ways when the event kicks off Dec. 5 at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena in the South Halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center.
“We will have an all-new look at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena,” said Bo Gardner, vice president of corporate marketing for Las Vegas Events and general manager of the Junior World Finals. “It will be a brand new arena with a new color scheme and a slightly different layout.”
Extra seating has been added to account for the increased attendance in recent years. According to Gardner, there will be an additional 240 bleacher seats. In addition, the Priefert VIP platform will now be two-tiered, which has been made possible by placing the announcers’ stand over the run-out at the timed events end of the arena.
The changes will extend beyond the Wrangler Rodeo Arena.
“We are moving the live-viewing area to accommodate more seating,” Gardner said. “There will be seating and a food court, and we have new LED boards and instant replay. And the Junior World Finals Boulevard will be bigger and better than ever.”
The same could be said for the Junior World Finals.
This year, in addition to the roughstock events of bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding and bull riding, the timed events has added pole bending to go along with barrel racing, breakaway roping, steer wrestling, tie-down roping and team roping. As in years past, the roughstock events will run the first five days with the timed events taking up the final five days.
Pole bending is a welcome addition to the rodeo lineup, according to Kelly Kaminski, who serves as the producer for both pole bending and barrel racing.
“I’m excited to bring poles to Vegas and really bring it to the forefront,” she said. “It is such a good event because it has speed, it has finesse, and it has horsemanship. There’s just a lot to it. A good pole run is amazing to watch. I would like to see pole bending grow and this is a great way to start.”
Kaminski will hold 10 pole bending qualifiers throughout the country – ranging from Mississippi to California and points in between – with the top four finishers at each qualifier advancing to the Junior World Finals. That will bring the total number of qualifiers for all nine events to about 750 of the best young cowboys and cowgirls to Las Vegas for the 10-day Junior World Finals.
With pole bending in the fold, Las Vegas Events has added an all-around title to the mix, with the top point-scorer for the boys and the top point-scorer for the girls vying for a horse trailer. As always, contestants will compete for prize money, awards and scholarships in each event. The all-around title is just an added incentive.
“By adding pole bending it gives the girls another chance at that all-around trailer,” Kaminski said.
Unlike in years past, when the rodeo was free to attend until the finals, fans will have to pay each day. But that cost is for the whole day and fans are welcome to leave the arena and return without having to pay again.
Gardner believes the cost is not only a bargain, but the money is for a good cause.
“We are charging $5 per day or $20 for a five-day pass,” he said, “but 120 percent of that money goes back to the prize money for the contestants. Las Vegas Events is not doing that to pay for anything or to put more money in our pockets, it’s to give it back to the contestants.
“If you come to watch the Junior World Finals, you will get your money’s worth.”