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For the love of rodeo, middle schoolers showcase their skills

DAVIE — They climb aboard horses with names such as Apache, Batman, Kicks and Toots.

Thanks to rodeo on TV and elsewhere, they know who the professional stars are, such as Hailey Kinsel, J.B. Mauney, Tuff Cooper and Jackie Crawford, hoping someday to compete on the big stage as well.

For now, Cyiah Avila, Ashlynn Collins, Atley Driggers and Jalee Wilcox are honing their horsemanship skills while being middle school students. They recently completed their seasons in the Florida Junior High School Rodeo Association.

Cyiah is Seminole; the others are descendants. All bring a similar love of horses and competition to arenas throughout Florida. They’ve been riding for as long as they can remember.

In early May, they were at Bergeron Rodeo Grounds in Davie for the association’s finals with aspirations of qualifying for the National Junior High Rodeo Finals that will be held in June in Huron, South Dakota.

The association features kids in grades 6, 7 and 8 who compete one weekend per month during the school year at arenas in LaBelle, Moore Haven, Okeechobee and the Junior Cypress Rodeo Arena on the Big Cypress Reservation.

“Most of the kids will move on to high school rodeo. It’s kind of a stepping stone for them to move into high school rodeo and then a lot of them will move into college rodeo,” said Matt Davis, president of FJHSRA.

The hard work the girls put in on a daily basis with caring for their horses – and they have multiple ones – while improving their riding skills as well as focusing on their academics tie into traits that can be used elsewhere in life.

“I put my granddaughter in [rodeo] because I think it will give her a goal in life,” said Cynthia Osceola, grandmother of Cyiah. “It teaches them a lot of patience and responsibility.”

Cyiah attended Ahfachkee School this year; Ashlynn, Atley and Jalee are home-schooled.

Breakaway calf roping, barrel racing, goat tying, pole bending and ribbon roping are among the events they compete in against other junior high schoolers.

In the finals at Bergeron, Jalee finished first in barrels, ribbon roping and all-around. For the season, she finished third overall in barrels and second in ribbon roping, which earned her spots in those events at nationals. She also qualified in breakaway, which she finished second overall in the season. She came in second in the all-around category for the season.

Although the other three girls didn’t qualify for South Dakota, Cyiah and Atley each notched their highest point-totals of the season in the finals, and Ashlynn had her best score of the season in pole bending.

The junior high season has ended in Florida, but the girls will continue to compete in other rodeos, including the Eastern Indian Rodeo Association where Cyiah and Ashlynn are part of royalty.

From left, Jalee Wilcox, Atley Driggers, Ashlynn Collins, Cyiah Avila and their horses get ready to compete in the Florida Junior High School Rodeo Association’s finals on May 3 at Bergeron Rodeo Arena in Davie. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
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