David Ball
For The Record

One often hears about students receiving scholarships for playing football, basketball, baseball, etc. Rarer still is when high school students receive scholarships for participating in rodeos.

Jesse Winfree and Tanner Jenkins of Orangefield High School, for instance, are two such young men who can claim earning scholarships for rodeoing.
Winfree and Jenkins signed their paperwork for rodeo scholarships to attend Northeast Texas Community College in Mount Pleasant.
“I’m feeling pretty happy right now because I get to continue my rodeo career and it’s something I enjoy doing,” said Winfree.

Winfree is a roper and a steer wrestler. He may also go into saddle bronc in college. He said rodeo scholarships are hard to find because not too many schools do them. “It’s a hard sport and it takes a lot of practice like any other sport. Maybe even more, but I’m happy to do it,” he said. “I’ll be away. I’m ready to go rope.” Winfree also said Orangefield will always be his home. “This is where I’m from and I’ll probably move back here. My kids will go to school here,” he said.

Jenkins said he’s excited about attending Northeast Texas Community College and competing. The people there are so good to me and Coach (Tyler) Honeycutt really pushes practice a lot. It’s going to be a good school,” he said. Jenkins started rodeoing in the 7th Grade. “It’s something I love. It’s my passion. I love football and stuff, but rodeo is my thing,” he said. “It’s the competitiveness of it and the good people in it. Nobody is going to talk you down. You make a bad run and somebody’s going to pick you up. It’s just good people.” Jenkins said you can’t find a better community to live in than Orangefield. His father teaches agriculture at the high school and everyone in Orangefield knows Jenkins. “Everybody’s been good to me. I’m just going to bring what I’ve learned from the good people here and the use the good luck they gave me. Hopefully I’ll go a long way in college,” Jenkins said.

Josh Smalley, Orangefield ISD athletic director, said both students played football too and are “great people.” He believes their participation in rodeo helped with their football skills. “They are good-character kids. They’re the kind of kids a coach dreams about,” Smalley said. “I wouldn’t had missed this signing for the world. I’m glad to be part of these two guys’ lives and I’m extremely proud.”

Though Orangefield ISD doesn’t have a rodeo team, Winfree and Jenkins compete in The Texas High School Rodeo Association. The Texas High School Rodeo Association is a 501-C non-profit organization and the largest in the nation, according to their website. THSRA sponsors over 125 rodeos per year throughout ten regions across Texas. The rodeo year begins in August and concludes with the Texas High School Finals Rodeo in June. It is here, at the largest rodeo in the State of Texas, where “The Elite Compete” featuring the top cowboys and cowgirls from each region. They compete for numerous awards, scholarships as well as the honor of representing the State of Texas at the National High School Finals Rodeo held each July.

THSRA began in Hallettsville, Texas in 1946. The idea behind the first High School Rodeo was to encourage rural-oriented youth to stay in school and complete their studies. Students must maintain certain academic standards throughout the school year in order to be eligible to compete. The school’s website read Northeast Texas Community College rodeo program, likewise, began in 1990. Facilities include a 350′ x 170″ practice arena, divided into three sections, with practice stock provided. A horse barn with thirty-seven Priefert stalls and tack rooms is located next to the arena. All facilities are located on campus. Northeast is a member of and competes in the Southern Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA). The rodeo program began in 1990 and is widely recognized for its excellence and competitiveness. Numerous students have represented Northeast at the College National Finals Rodeo.

Northeast sponsors one of the ten NIRA sanctioned rodeos each year and competes against over twenty college and university teams at these rodeos. In order to compete in these ten rodeos, individuals must purchase a NIRA card. Students are also responsible for entry fees and travel expenses. Travel money (to be used for travel expenses) is awarded to six men and four women with the most cumulative points after each rodeo.

Photo – Jesse Winfree, left, and Tanner Jenkins, right, sign their paperwork for their scholarships to attend Northeast Texas Community College in Mount Pleasant on April 16 while Coach Tyler Honeycutt looks on.
The two Orangefield High School students will compete in rodeos while attending college.
RECORD PHOTO: David Ball