Natives 'proud' to have competed at WNFR

By Quentin Jodie
Navajo Times

LAS VEGAS, Nev., Dec. 20, 2012

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(Courtesy photo)

Montana Native Dustin Bird, Derrick Begay of Seba Delkai, Ariz., and Erich Rogers of Round Rock, Ariz., all competed at the 54th annual Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.

The 2012 rodeo calendar came to an end on Saturday at the conclusion of the 54th annual Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

This year three talented Native Americans took part in what many call the "Super Bowl of Rodeo."

Newcomer and Montana-cowboy Dustin Bird joined five-time NFR qualifier Derrick Begay and Round Rock, Ariz., cowboy Erich Rogers, who earned his second trip to Las Vegas.

And while experience counts, the latter two can attest the difficulties of competing inside the Thomas and Mack Center as their paths to this year's NFR was much different from last year.

In 2011, Begay and Rogers held the No. 1 and No. 3 slots in the world standings as headers in the team roping division at the start of the NFR.

During the regular season last year both ropers experienced a lot of highs with Begay winning 10 rodeos including the prestigious Justin Boots Championships in Omaha, Neb., with heeling partner Cesar de la Cruz.

Rogers, meanwhile, paired up with Kory Koontz and recorded a breakout season by qualifying for his first NFR.

During the finals, though, both teams struggled to get going in the 10-day event as the latter pair placed 12th while Begay and de la Cruz finished 13th in the average race in 2011.

"I remember as kid watching the finals on TV, it looked real easy," Begay said. "I was thinking that I could rope them real fast, but the conditions here at the finals are a lot different than what you see at a regular rodeo.

"The set up is real fast because the arena is shorter and the score line is short," he said. "It's hard to safety up there because you have to stay aggressive."

In addition, Begay said, "You're competing with the top 15 ropers in the world."

"You really don't have time to think and you just have to find a rhythm and hope your week goes well," Rogers added.

And just like Begay, Rogers said you have to stay aggressive, but on the same token give yourself a chance.

"Everybody here has the ability and the talent," he said. "You have to have a good mental game so it's best to be smart and don't take a silly shot."

Admittedly, both cowboys said during the course of the season they experienced a dry spell as they entered this year's finals in the middle of the pack with Begay seeded ninth, three spots ahead of Rogers.

Begay started the season slow, but during the summer he and his partner Ð de la Cruz Ð got on a much-need roll.

"It was my dream to make it back to the NFR again," Begay said, who earned big wins in Prescott and in Window Rock during the Cowboy Christmas run in July.

As for Rogers, he started the 2011 campaign with wins in Fort Worth, Texas and Tucson, Ariz. but acknowledged that the road to the NFR was tough.

"There was some pressure to make it back," he said. "We didn't finish as strong, but we had a good winter last year where we were successful."

At this year's final, Rogers found some of that success and finished third in the average as he and his partner roped eight of 10 steers in 46.4 seconds.

They earned a check in six of those rounds including a first-place finish in the third performance. As a team they collected $91,874 during the finals.

"There was a lot of money up for grabs," said Rogers, who finished fifth in the world standings with $161,82.

"Every night we just had to go catch steers and win as much as we can," he said.

As for Begay, he and his partner cleared $67,139 and finished the average race in sixth place by roping seven steers during their ten-day run, which included three second-place finishes.

Before this year, the Seba Dalkai, Ariz., cowboy said he hasn't had good finals yet, but with an "open mind" that changed.

"Every year I go out there I try so hard," he said. "I kind of worry about it, but I came in here with an open mind and once your confidence starts rolling, it makes things easier."

Begay finished the year in sixth place by amassing $155,233.

As for Bird, he pocketed $29,152 with his best finish coming in the fourth round with partner Paul Eaves as the pair won the round with a 3.9-second run.

Begay said it was a pretty good deal competing with Rogers and Bird at this year's finals.

"It's cool to have us Native Americans competing in a world finals," he said. "It's something that we are all proud of."

"We all had a great year," Rogers added. "Derrick has been in the game for awhile while me and Dustin (just got) our feet wet."