The New Mexico High School Rodeo Association and the New Mexico Junior High School Rodeo Association are coming to Lea County.
For the NMJHSRA, it is a return after several years in Gallup and Las Cruces. As for the NMHSRA, this will be the first time the finals have been held in Lea County.
“In years past, when I was on the (Lea County Fair & Rodeo) board in 2006, ‘07, ‘08, ‘09, and ‘10, I am not sure when we lost it, but we had the junior high finals and we got out bid by Gallup,” Lea County Commissioner Dean Jackson said. “Gallup added more money and we lost it then. Then Gallup turned it back, I think in 2019 and they have been having it at a private facility in Las Cruces.”
The state finals for both the NMHSRA and the NMJHSRA will be held jointly at Jake McClure Arena at the Lovington Fair Grounds beginning Thursday and running through Sunday, May 30.
Jake McClure Arena has hosted a high school rodeo event, but this will be the first time the finals come to Lea County.
“This is a great venue for the kids,” Jackson said. “And it is a great venue for Lovington and Lea County.”
Jackson is expecting around 300 contestants and families for the two rodeos. According to the Lea County Fair Office, it is still organizing the event and won’t know exactly how many contestants until later this week.
However, according to Tatum Municipal School officials, there are five competitors, one junior high and for high school.
Avery Henard will be the lone middle school student. Henard competes in ribbon roping and calf breakaway.
At the high school level, Mason Cartwright and Hayden Mullins are juniors while Rilie Grace Abel and Kylie West are sophomores.
Mullins does calf roping while Abel does breakaway, pole bending, goat tying, team roping, and barrels. Cartwright will be in the team roping and tie down while West does breakaway and barrels.
Morgan Northcutt and Cole Northcutt also rodeo for Tatum, but the brother and sister duo are competing in Texas this year because of COVID.
The NMJHSRA will hold its performances in the morning while the NMHSRA will be in the afternoons. According to the Lea County website, the junior high rodeo will begin on Friday at 10 a.m. with the high school rodeo starting at 4 p.m. On Saturday, the junior high rodeo will start at 8 a.m. and the high school will get underway at 3 p.m. Sunday, May 30, is slated to be the short go with competition beginning at 2 p.m.
“This will bring so much to Lovington and to Lea County as far as gas stations, restaurants, maybe some shopping,” Jackson said.
During the state finals, there will be several activities for just the contestants and their family. The Lovington City Commission will provide two nights of movies under the stars. There will also be a dance with the Justin Kemp Band.
“We want to make this so they think we always want to come back to Lea County,” Jackson said.
The NMHSRA and NMJHSRA rodeo itself will be open to the public and there will be no cost for anyone who wants to come watch.
Lea County will continue to follow New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham’s health mandates during the rodeo.
“We are going to follow the guidelines, everything we can,” Jackson said. “Luckily the CDC has come out and said we don’t have to wear masks anymore outside, so it is a perfect storm.”
Jackson is hoping to use the NMHSRA and NMJHSRA state finals rodeo to show the state that the annual Lea County Fair and Rodeo can once again be held in August.
“Everyone has asked if we are going to have a fair and rodeo,” the Lea County commissioner said. “I said lets get through this junior high rodeo and see how that goes. I think this is going to be a prelude, as long as she doesn’t go nuts, we can have a fair and rodeo. We can show (Lujan Grisham) that we can follow the guidelines and we will do everything that is asked.”