GJ's Norell, Collbran's Hernandez will compete in National Junior High Finals
It wasn’t easy at first, but Denton Norell learned how to take down a steer more than twice his size.
Norell, 14, of Grand Junction, has it down so well, he won the state chute dogging title at the Colorado Junior High Finals Rodeo to qualify for the National Junior High Finals Rodeo next week. Chute dogging is steer wrestling for the junior high school division.
“I don’t think I threw more than two out of 20,” said Norell of his first year in the event two years ago. “Last year, I placed some. It helps to be taller. When you’re short, you have no leverage. It was hard to practice. I got hurt practicing when I was in the seventh grade.”
Norell took third in tie-down roping at state to qualify for the eighth annual national finals, which begin Sunday in Gallup, N.M.
“I’m hoping to get both steers thrown down (at nationals),” Norell said. “I’d like to make the short go-round in both (to place in the top 10 to 15).”
Arles Hernandez, 14, of Collbran qualified for the nationals in junior bull-riding for the second consecutive year. He placed 12th last year.
“I need to focus more (this year),” Hernandez said. “I didn’t focus well last year.”
The National Junior High Finals Rodeo features more than 1,000 contestants from 47 states, plus five Canadian provinces and Australia.
The contestants will compete for $100,000 in college scholarships and the national championship. Contestants must finish in the top 20 after two go-rounds of intense competition in order to advance to the final championship performance Saturday, June 30.
Norell, who weighs 155 pounds, had trouble taking young steers (up to 400 pounds) down when he first started in sixth grade.
He took down both steers in the state competition.
This was the first year Norell competed in tie-down roping. Sixth- and seventh-graders can rope calves, but must let them go instead of tying them down.
“I didn’t do good in the state finals (in tie-down roping),” he said. “I missed (roping the calf) both days.”
Norell, though, racked up enough season points to qualify for nationals.
He has competed in the Colorado Junior High Finals Rodeo the past three years but didn’t qualify for nationals until this year.
Norell, who attended East Middle School, will be a freshman at Palisade High School in the fall and will move to the high school division next year. He has tried football, wrestling, golf and tennis. He plans to play football and wrestling in high school.
Hernandez, who grew up on a ranch, went to a bull-riding camp in 2009 when he was 11.
“It was something he always wanted to do, but he shows no fear,” his mother, Jennifer Hernandez said. “He gets in that chute and has all the confidence in the world.”
Hernandez doesn’t get to practice bull-riding much, but he competed nearly every weekend in a Colorado State Rodeo Association event through the state tournament four weeks ago.