Kyle Conway Qualifies For National Roping Finals

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As if he were tuned to the lyrics of country music star Willie Nelson's long-time hit, "On the Road Again," 17-year-old Kyle Conway spent the past week traveling the highways of Utah and Arizona in search of fresh roping challenges.

His most recent roping adventures took him first to Laveen, near Phoenix, and days later to Moab, Utah.

At the jackpot team-roping in Laveen Feb. 14, Conway was a rodeo hit, pocketing prize money in excess of $2,300 and a new three-horse trailer.

In numerous go-arounds with various partners, some of whom he didn't know, the Payson High School junior -- almost always the heeler in the roping pair -- had a best time of 4.9 seconds.

Following his sterling showing in Laveen, Conway -- accompanied by his Payson High classmate Tim Baker -- packed up his new trailer and set his sights on a United States Team Roping Championship national qualifying event in Moab. A good effort there, he knew, would earn him a berth in the National Finals to be held November, 1999 in Oklahoma.

A sterling effort is exactly what he turned out, winning first place among the number-eight team ropers.

In USTRC events, the participants are ranked according to ability, experience and prize winnings.

One-ropers are rookies, ninth-ranked cowboys are the cream of the crop.

His winnings included $2,800 in prize money, a saddle and rope bag.

Conway says now that he has qualified for the national finals, he hopes to be able to travel to Oklahoma to compete but the fall is a hectic time of the school year for him and his family.

Over the course of the two events in Laveen and Moab, young Conway estimates he competed in over 200 roping runs.

The demands of the travel and competition, he said, were eased by the more than $5,000 in prize money he returned home with.

Western roots
Conway's no stranger to Rim country rodeo enthusiasts -- since he was a knee-high toddler, he's ridden, roped and knotted piggin' strings with the best of cowboys.

As a competitor on the Arizona Junior Rodeo Association circuit, he won several age-group and all-around state championships.

As a pre-teen, when many of his friends were home playing video games, Conway could often be found perched wide-eyed high atop the Payson Rodeo ground fences where he had a birds-eye view of the competition.

It's easy to understand why he was attracted to the sport -- most of his family members are accomplished ropers as well as pioneer ranchers. An uncle was a PRCA National Final contestant several years ago.

His mother, Penny, founded REACH -- a national rodeo education program for public school students.

In addition to his jackpot and USTRC outings, Conway is now one of the most accomplished ropers on the Arizona High School Rodeo Association circuit.

Currently he's in third place in the Arizona calf-roping rankings, and hopes to move up a notch or two with a good series at the next prep rodeo March 6 in Yuma.

Ask anyone in the Rim country and they'll tell you rodeo is Conway's heritage but by no means the extent of his athletic ambitions.

Since he was in the elementary grades, Conway has been an accomplished football player on both youth and school teams.

His first football memories are as a six-year-old player on the Payson Bears.

"We were undefeated one year. We had a really good team," he said.

As quarterback, he guided his Rim Country Middle School eighth-grade team to an undefeated White Mountain League championship in 1995. He went on to highly successful stints on the PHS freshman and jayvee teams. Last year, he was a member of the Longhorn state championship squad, and will be vying for starting signal caller honors on the 1999 team that has a legitimate chance at nailing down another state crown.

When asked to compare the two -- rodeo and football -- Conway would only say he looked forward to the challenges of both sports.

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