At five years of age, he climbed on a ropin' horse and almost flawlessly lassoed and tied a fleeing calf, setting the stage for what could become a promising career as a professional rodeo cowboy.
Since that first piggin' string was knotted, Kyle Conway, now 17, has grown into one of the best calf and team ropers in the state.
The teenager solidified his fast-growing reputation as a top-notch cowboy by earning a berth in the 51st Annual National High School Finals Rodeo, July 19 to 25 in Gillette, Wyo.
Conway qualified for the NHSFR berth by finishing second overall in the calf-roping event at the Arizona State High School Championships last weekend in Springerville/Eagar.
In his three go-rounds during the finals, Conway successfully roped and tied his calves in 11.1, 10.8 and 12.1 seconds.
His fastest time this season was a 9.2 effort recorded early in the high school campaign.
At the NHSFR event, Conway will join over 1,500 contestants from 38 states and four Canadian provinces for what is the world's largest rodeo.
In addition to competing for over $70,000 in prizes, NHSFR contestants also compete for more than $150,000 in college scholarships and the chance to be named a National High School Rodeo Champion. To earn the title, Conway must finish in the top 20 after two go-rounds of competition before advancing to Sunday's final championship performance. This year, Sunday's finals will be nationally televised on TNN at 1 p.m. Aug. 15 in all time zones. The top finishers will be featured, NHSFR officials say.
In the championships, Conway will again be riding his favorite horse, Bobcat. Earlier this school year, the youngster considered purchasing a new horse in hopes of quickening his roping times. However, Conway is currently working for the summer on a ranch near Limon, Colo. where he and a veteran, long-time calf roper have been able to synchronize his efforts with those of Bobcat.
Conway's mother, Penny, says her son has since reconsidered purchasing a new mount and will stick with Bobcat.
At the high school championships, Conway will compete as a member of the prestigious Wrangler High School All-Star Rodeo Team. Last fall, he was named to the team by the National High School Rodeo Association based on his leadership qualities, academic eligibility and athletic achievements.
As a member of the all-star team, Conway is outfitted with official competition apparel embroidered with the team logo. He also was given a team plaque signed by rodeo legends Ty Murray and Jim Shoulders.
Despite his young age, Conway's roping accomplishments are well document edin the Rim country.
As an 11-year-old competing against adult ropers, he pocketed over $5,000 in prize money at a jackpot roping in New River. Last October in a Gallup, N.M. roping, he won another $1,300. He's also won a bevy of horse trailers, saddles, belt buckles, ropes, clothing, plaques and trophies in his short rodeo career.
Competing since he was an elementary school student on the Arizona Junior Rodeo Association campaign, Conway has captured numerous age group state championships in both team and calf roping.
Last summer, he and team roping partner Dale Smith of Marana turned in a second-place finish at a national high school rodeo held in Oklahoma. The pair went on to win the team roping in 7.2 seconds at the Arizona State Fair last fall.
In addition to his rodeo endeavors, Conway has long been an accomplished athlete in football.
During his eighth-grade year at Rim Country Middle School, and freshman and sophomore seasons at Payson High, Conway quarterbacked the Mavericks and Longhorns to undefeated records.
Last year, he was the backup quarterback on the state championship PHS team behind three-year starter Hunter Walden.
With the 1999 campaign set to tip off in early August, Conway is the heir-apparent to take over the signal calling role. Once pre-season drills roll around, the youngster plans on taking a three-month respite from rodeo in order to concentrate solely on football.
At the conclusion of the gridiron season, however, rodeo once again becomes number-one on his sports agenda. His goal, Conway said, is to earn a rodeo college scholarship and pursue the sport on the next level.