Hoofs pounded, dust flew and bodies hit the ground, as nine students from Payson High School competed in the first AHSRA rodeo of the year.
"You're looking at the next world champion PRCA rodeo riders," Tracy Wilson, president of the Arizona High School Rodeo Association said.
"Payson has always had some good riders," Wilson said. "Some of our strongest competitors come out of Payson."
"As a whole, all of the participants in the AHRSA are some of the best riders in the country," he said.
Payson students competing in the rodeo included Patty Goble, Candace Haworth, Ashley James, Mickey Willig, Mitchell Perna, Jeff and Jason Lister, Trevor Haught and Logan Ferkol.
Nearly 400 boys and girls from 47 Arizona high schools participated in the rodeo, not for cash prizes, but for college scholarships and grants, as well as points alone, at the Multi-Event Center Sept. 16 and 17.
"These scholarships and grants can cover most of tuition and the cost of books for the average college student," Stevens said.
In May of every year, competitors' points are tallied to determine who will take home awards, which are awarded to the winners in a presentation ceremony at the state finals in June.
Wilson said AHSRA state finals might return to Payson this year, depending on talks with the town.
Those who do not choose to go on to college gain valuable experience for possible careers in rodeo.
Payson High School junior Trevor Haught was one of the competitors looking for some of that experience.
Haught competes in bareback and saddle-bronc riding and was the 2006 high school bareback state champion.
Haught said he got the rodeo bug early in life after watching his cousin Clayton Haught riding bareback horses.
"I saw the movie ‘Eight Seconds' when I was about 12 years old, and then my cousin came to work for us and after that, I wanted to be a bull rider," he said.
"I thought he was the coolest thing since thong sandals and he really got me into it and taught me everything he knew, and I just started riding and getting on bales of hay to practice, and it was all downhill from there, I was hooked," Haught said with a laugh.
Riders competed against each other in events like barrel racing, pole bending, calf-roping, goat tying, team roping, bull riding, steer wrestling, saddle-bronc and bareback riding.
The rodeo was the first in a series of 10 rodeos Arizona high school students will be competing in over the course of the year for college financial assistance.
Wilson said AHSRA always has the first rodeo of the year in Payson because it is the best high school rodeo facility in Arizona.
"We like to open the season in the best facility we can, and the Multi-Event Center is just that," Wilson said.
The first-of-the-series AHSRA rodeo is an annual event held in Payson, but is not sponsored by any high school.
"It's generally really hard to get any of the high schools in the state to sponsor the event, because of the liability," said Wendell Stevens, Payson High School agriculture teacher.
Stevens said students have to rely primarily on parents' help and community sponsors to cover the costs of competing.
Doug Carlson's daughter, Peoria High School sophomore McKenna Carlson, competed in barrel racing in the rodeo.
"It does strap us a little as far as money, but she (McKenna) loves it, so it's worth it to us," Carlson said.
While Carlson did not place in her events, riders from Payson High School were able to go home with some good times.
Haught managed to take first place in bareback Sept. 16, and took fourth place in the same event Sept. 17 at the rodeo in Payson.
Patty Goble took eighth place in barrel racing on Sept. 16 with a time of 18.31.
"These kids work really hard," announcer Dan Fowlie said. "A lot of them are as good as any PRCA rider."