After months of qualifying events across the country, the top youth cowboys and cowgirls are ready to descend on Las Vegas for the 2022 YETI Junior World Finals. Contestants from 39 states, as well as Canada, Mexico and Australia, will compete for $1 million in prizes, cash and scholarships Dec. 1-10 at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena inside the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The action begins with the roughstock events – bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding – the morning of Dec. 1, with the finals scheduled for Dec. 5. The timed events – steer wrestling, tie-down roping, team roping, barrel racing, breakaway roping and pole bending – take over the arena Dec. 6.
“We do what we can to put on a first-class event in Vegas and make it professional and as close to the big-time as we can,” said four-time world champion steer wrestler and Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame member Ote Berry, who is in his sixth year as the producer of the bulldogging event.
This marks the seventh year for the YETI Junior World Finals and the fourth year it has run concurrently with the nightly Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. While some former YETI Junior World Finals contestants like steer wrestler Bridger Anderson and tie-down roper John Douch have already competed at the NFR – with barrel racer Bayleigh Choate joining that select group this year – many more are expected to compete at the Thomas & Mack in the future.
Until then, though, the future of rodeo will be on full display at the Wrangler Rodeo Arena. This year’s competition features 20 returning champions in addition to champs from years past and a host of newcomers.
The bareback and saddle bronc competition features nine cowboys who won titles last year: Layn Claxton of West, Texas (rookie bareback); Tyson Schmelzle of Gillette, Wyoming (junior bareback); Collin Roland of Childersburg, Alabama (senior bareback); Wade Manger of Breda, Iowa (rookie saddle bronc); Zane Manger of Breda, Iowa (junior saddle bronc); Shane Scott of Ridgefield, Washington (senior saddle bronc); Benny Proffit of Canadian, Texas (novice saddle bronc); Taos Weborg of St. Charles, South Dakota (junior all-around); and Clay Greenslade of Alberta, Canada (senior all-around).
Leal’s miniature bull riding has three cowboys back to defend their titles in JW Nunn of Seminole, Texas (10-11 division); Noah Lee of Azle, Texas (12-13 division); and Michael Caruso of Pilesgrove, New Jersey (16-18 division).
Both of last year’s steer wrestling champions return in Cash Robb of Altamont, Utah (open division) and Sage Schrunk of Valentine, Nebraska (16 and under division).
In tie-down roping, Rance Winters of Stephenville, Texas (12 and under division) and Roan Hudson of Fort Ogden, Florida (15 and under division) are back to try to add another championship buckle to their collection, as is team roper Owen Clemons of Lake Placid, Florida.
Last year’s barrel racing champs – Charlie Ray Sohrt of Marvel, Texas (junior division) and Morgan Beckstrom of Spanish Fork, Utah (senior division) – both return as does breakaway roper Bronc Evans of Fairview, Missouri (10 and under division).
One defending champion who won’t be competing this year is Kooper Heimburg, last year’s novice bareback champ. Heimburg is competing for Missouri Valley College where he is currently No. 6 in the nation in bareback with his sights set on the 2023 College National Finals Rodeo. Former YETI Junior World Finals champs Bradlee Miller and Chris Villanueva have already competed in the CNFR for Sam Houston State, with Villanueva finishing 13th in bull riding in 2021 and Miller placing ninth at the most recent CNFR in bareback.
Another former JWF competitor, barrel racer Tayla Moeykens, was the 2021 CNFR barrel racing champion for Montana State in 2021.
“Taylor and her family come back every year to help us on the back side of things at the YETI Junior World Finals,” said Kelly Kaminski, who coordinates the KK Run for Vegas barrel racing and pole bending competitions. “We all come together to help each other. We compete against each other but there is so much to learn from this sport … sportsmanship, and how to care for something other than yourself. It’s family oriented and it’s just something neat to be a part of.”