Women Riders, Ropers Show Their Stuff Thursday

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Rodeoing is most often thought of as a man's sport, but don't tell that to the more than 100 women expected to compete in the Cactus Series event during the Payson Spring Rodeo Gary Hardt Memorial.

Both novices and seasoned members of the Professional Women's Rodeo Association will be in the Payson Event Center arena the evening of Thursday, May 20 for contests in tie-down roping (formerly known as calf roping), break-away roping, team roping and barrel racing.

Women and girls from around the state will compete at various skill levels in the three roping events, plus barrel racing. Those interested in testing their skills can sign up starting around 4 p.m. that afternoon, according to Penny Conway of Payson, who holds the 2001 World Champion title in team roping.

She said some of the women will be using the Payson contest to earn points toward their year-end state standings in the Cactus Series, while others will be working for points in the PWRA standings.

She said women and girls interested in testing their rodeo skills can sign up the day of the event. The contests start at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 20 and admission is just a can of food, to be contributed to food banks.

Conway's rodeo work is not limited to the arenas. She is the founder and president of Cowboys & Kids, an organization that uses the cowboy philosophy to encourage children to make positive choices in life.

During the week leading up to this weekend's Payson Spring Rodeo Gary Hardt Memorial, Conway will be visiting Rim country schools with the Cowboys & Kids program.

Presented in an assembly format, sponsored by National Ford and Phil White Ford, the program uses the American Cowboy and Western themes to draw students' attention.

"Sharing the traits of cowboys -- strong character and positive attitudes -- will help guide children to make the right choices in life," Conway said.

The students will see the "Cowboy Up" presentation at Frontier Elementary, Payson Elementary, Pine and Tonto Basin Schools. The program covers patriotism, western heritage and the cowboy lifestyle using posters and interactive exhibits.

The term "Cowboy Up" has become popular in Western arenas around the country as a saying to encourage people to be strong and tough, Conway said.

"In this case, it will be used to teach kids to stick to the cowboy ideals," she said.

The program is presented to students in the first through eighth grades and during the past 13 years has reached more than 2 million children throughout the country. So far this year, the program has been presented to approximately 110,000 young people.

Conway has been a member of the PWRA since she was 12. She was on the National Collegiate Rodeo Team for four years at Arizona State University and Central Arizona College. During that time, she earned regional championships in break-away roping and goat tying.

She also earned a degree in education while in college and taught in public schools for five years.

She is married to Bill Conway, who is a member of a 130-year pioneer cattle ranching family in Gila County. Their children compete in rodeo events, as do Conway's brothers, Mark Simon and Jay Simon.

Her father, Milt Simon, participated in the first National Finals Rodeo in Dallas, Texas in 1959.

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