Conway Becomes Card-Carrying Cowboy

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Each August for more than a decade, the young boy climbed the old Payson rodeo grounds corral fence and nestled himself high atop a wooden railing.

Usually he straddled the rail, as if he were riding high in a saddle.

There, Kyle Conway owned a cowboy's-eye view of the excitement of the World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo. As the youngster watched each event unfold, he expertly twirled and tied a piggin' string as if he were workin' a just-roped calf.

Between events, he'd hop down from the railing, grab a lasso and begin twirling the rope with a form that would swell the chest of the most seasoned of cowboys. When he let fly, the lasso was almost always on target usually around a nearby fencepost.

It was as if Kyle were readying himself for the first time he'd charge into the arena and begin pursuit of his dream of becoming one of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association's best calf and team ropers.

His dream came true last weekend, although it did not take place at the same rodeo arena he practically grew up in. The old arena was dismantled this summer, just months before Kyle turned 18 and became eligible for a PRCA participation permit.

At the new arena inside the Payson Event Center, Kyle finally rode into history as a participating cowboy at the August Doin's.

With PRCA permit in tow, he entered the team roping with Travis Bard of Chino Valley.

Even through Kyle was a rookie to the event, the pair did well in the team roping, finishing third in the averages. The two with Kyle as the heeler split third and fourth in the first go-around, and over the course of the weekend turned in two quick times of 7 and 7.2 seconds. Both earned $531 dollars in prize money.

Kyle, a 2000 graduate of Payson High School, will now take his roping act on the road to Sul Ross State University in Alpine, Texas, where he has received a rodeo scholarship.

He accepted the scholarship offer to Sul Ross, he said, "because it is one of the best rodeo schools in the country."

Coaches have told him he will participate in about 10 rodeos a year four during the first semester and six during the second.

"I'm really looking forward to that," Kyle said.

Also, there's a state-of-the-art rodeo practice arena on campus that will give him plenty of opportunity to perfect his skills.

College life won't be all about sports, though; the Payson teenager will be required to take a full load of academic courses. He said he's undecided as to his major so will focus his freshman year on general studies.

After graduating from PHS last spring, Kyle spent the summer traveling the country as a member of the "Young Pro" evangelical program.

He said the experience should be one that will help him make the adjustments to college life hundreds of miles away from his close-knit family.

During the jaunt, he and fellow athletes made stops at schools, homes, sporting events and about anywhere people would listen to him preach the virtues of the sport of rodeo.

"We tried to teach kids how to compete from a Christian perspective," he said.

Traveling through Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Florida, Iowa and other states was an eye-opening experience, Kyle said. "Things are so different than in Payson, and not always in a good way."

Before leaving for Texas Monday morning, Kyle said he was looking forward to the challenge of competing on the college level.

Since he was first labeled a topnotch rodeo performer with a college scholarship in hand, Kyle has been asked if he'd consider giving up the education to compete full time on the financially lucrative PRCA circuit.

Winning large sums of money is an attraction to any youngster, but Kyle said, "college, not the pros, is my goal right now."

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