Last year’s Junior World Finals was still up in the air amid the coronavirus pandemic when Kelly Kaminski made a declaration to her family.
“I had all of my stuff in place and I told my family we were going to have a finals somewhere, even if it was in my backyard,” recalled Kaminski, who produces the barrel racing and pole bending qualifiers for the Junior World Finals.
While not technically in her backyard, the 2021 JWF did take place in Kaminski’s home state of Texas. This year’s event returns to Las Vegas on Dec. 2-11 at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena in the South hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. The Kelly Kaminski Run for Vegas barrel racing and KK Run for Vegas pole bending, along with the other timed events – steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down roping and breakaway roping – begin Dec. 7 with the finals Dec. 11.
It’s familiar ground for Kaminski and the contestants. The first barrel racing competition at the Junior World Finals, which was previously known as the Junior National Finals Rodeo, was held in 2016. Breakaway was added to the mix in 2019.
This year Kaminski had qualifiers in 18 states, spread across the country from Pennsylvania to California and states in between. Even though COVID restrictions in some states meant the KK Run for Vegas couldn’t hold qualifiers, other states were there to pick up the slack. The result will be a similar number of contestants in all three events Kaminski produces – junior barrels (age 11 and under), senior barrels (ages 12-17) and pole bending (age 17 and under).
“We limit how many can qualify simply because we only have so much time and space in that arena,” she said. “We have around 70 barrel racers in each age group and about 50 pole benders. It’s basically about the same as it has been.”
Considering all the uncertainty surrounding last year’s event, Kaminski was thankful that her home state stepped up to allow it to happen. The 2020 JWF was held at the Cowtown Coliseum in the Fort Worth Stockyards. The venue, which was built in 1908, was home to the world’s first indoor rodeo.
“It was so much fun to do last year’s event at the historic stock yards in Fort Worth,” Kaminski recalled. “We didn’t know we were even going to have a Junior World Finals last year until the beginning of November and we still pulled it off.”
She credits Las Vegas Events for making that happen.
“It worked out great that Las Vegas Events came through and produced everything in Fort Worth,” she said. “It was a neat area to do things in, but logistically they don’t have the accommodations that Vegas has. There’s just so much to do in Vegas.”
This year, barrel racers will have one more thing to add to their to-do list when they’re in Vegas.
“We are going to have a qualifier for 2022 at The Orleans in conjunction with the ALL IN Barrel Race on Dec. 4,” Kaminski said. “Apparently, I need more jobs.”
Last year sort of spilled into this year, especially with rescheduling issues. The good thing about that was that after last year everybody was really good about it and just rolled with it. Of course, getting some of the prizes and awards was tough.
As far as our races went, our world of barrels and poles is OK depending on what part of the country these events are set up. Our entries were fairly decent. The pro rodeos had to shut down for a while last year, but the amateur stuff was wide open.
Of course, things change day by day but I think we’ll be back to somewhat normal this year. There’s just so much to do in Vegas.
Next year we’ll change the age groups a little bit … going from 11 and under to 12 and under for the juniors.