These cowboys and cowgirls love their country and love the sport of rodeo.
What’s more appropriate than a rodeo just for them? It’s the Professional Armed Forces Rodeo Association (PAFRA) World Championship Rodeo, 7 o’clock nightly, October 24-25-26, at Domer Arena, Stormont Vail Events Center, Topeka.
“This is a unique rodeo unlike any other,” said Steve Milton, retired Army 1SG and PAFRA marketing director from Fort Riley.
“All of the contestants are active in the military, retirees, veterans or are their direct dependents,” according to Milton.
“Every branch of the service will be represented in the rodeo, recognized and participate in the grand entry,” he added.
“Those serving in the military face unique challenges to qualify for an event like the National Finals Rodeo,” Milton stated. “With station transfers, deployments and the like it’s impossible for them to accumulate qualifying points for a rodeo.
“Everybody with direct military ties desiring to compete in rodeo is welcome to enter our world championship. We don’t require points to qualify,” he clarified.
The first rodeo uniquely for military personnel and their families originated in Fort Worth, Texas, in the early 2000s.
“That’s how I became involved when my wife, Sharon, was barrel racing in 2014,” Milton said. “It had been moved to Midland, Texas, in 2007 and continued there several years.”
Texas was not as an enhancing a location for rodeo contestants from around the country and world to participate.
“In 2016, we decided to bring the PAFRA World Championship to the Flint Hills,” Milton informed. “It’s here in the center of the country and close to the Big Red One at Fort Riley.”
From a somewhat meager beginning, growth has been substantial, according to the promoter. “We had about 65 contestants starting out, and it’s increased to 110 cowboys and cowgirls this year,” he said.
“That’s been largely due to such strong support from the Flint Hills region and our partners,” Milton credited. “We certainly appreciate Indiana Wesleyan University as our presenting sponsor. The values of faith and dedication to excellence are shared by both organizations.”
Yet, from the military, to the participants, to the many volunteers, everybody has helped.
“It’s strictly a volunteer effort for the love of our country and love for the sport of rodeo,” Milton reiterated. “Operations are funded entirely from donations, volunteers, in kind assistance, services and memberships. Nobody gets paid.
“We strive to provide a worthy moral and welfare outlet for our members,” Milton confirmed
It’ll be a “full-fledged rodeo” with bareback, saddle bronc and bull riding, calf roping, bulldogging, team roping, and barrel racing. There’ll also be breakaway roping at the rodeo.
“An added attraction event is cowboy mounted shooting which has proven very popular,” Milton said.
Quality rodeo livestock has been contracted in addition to professional rodeo secretaries, announcers and other officials. “It’s a partnership rodeo with the best the sport has to offer,” Milton emphasized.
There are 148 entries from throughout the nation and the world coming to Topeka. “We have service men and women deployed overseas taking their furloughs to be here to rodeo,” the promoter informed.
Every cowboy and cowgirl will have two rounds of competition on Thursday and Friday. “Before, they’ve all competed during the rodeo performances,” Milton said. “However, due to our increased participation, some of the events will have contestants competing during rodeo slack time.”
The top point earners from the two go-rounds will compete in Saturday evening’s short-go finals rodeo.
Each rodeo performance will begin at 7 o’clock. “We hope to pack the stands with spectators cheering on cowboys and cowgirls who love their country and rodeo,” Milton welcomed.
Additional community attractions are scheduled for rodeo week. “Contestants with their horses will visit the Veterans Administration Hospital and the Stormont Vale Children’s Hospital,” Milton said.
Thursday’s performance is to recognize First Responders, Emergency Medical Service (EMS) employees and hospital workers.
Friday is RED to Remember Everyone Deployed and military appreciation as special acknowledgement to all in the military.
“Those being recognized at the performances on both Thursday and Friday will be admitted free with valid identification,” Milton invited.
“Saturday’s finals honors the past while forging the future where we pay tribute to veterans past and future,” Milton said.
A special kid’s activity is scheduled Saturday afternoon starting at 4 o’clock to 5:30. It’ll be open to the first 30 children with their families who make reservations. Each child will receive two adult tickets for the evening rodeo performance.
“PAFRA plans the Forging The Future event because young people are the future of our military,” Milton explained. “Children can meet rodeo contestants; participate in clown face painting, dummy roping and get to pet a horse.”
Additionally, tied to the Forging The Future theme will be a Mass Army Enlistment/Re-enlistment ceremony with the swearing in done in by the Command Team of the 1st Infantry Division, Milton said.
The Mission of PAFRA is “to provide a veterans based, values oriented rodeo association that empowers it members to serve their community through servant leadership and rodeo.”
“Each performance will have vendors, food, drink and a good time for all ages,” Milton promised.