JENNIFER FIERRO • STAFF WRITER
GONZALES — Marble Falls Middle School sixth-grader Michael Tupper decided long ago he wanted to be a professional bull and bareback steer rider.
He took a giant jump in that direction when he finished fourth at the Texas Junior High State Finals in bareback steer riding in May to qualify for the 11th annual National Junior High Finals Rodeo in Des Moines, Iowa, on June 21-27.
“It was something I wanted to do as a kid,” Tupper said. “Now that I’m doing it, I want to keep doing it.”
The national rodeo will draw about 1,000 competitors representing 42 states, five Canadian provinces and Australia, according to reports. Contestants will be vying for $75,000 in prizes and more than $100,000 in college scholarships.
Each competitor is guaranteed two runs that will be combined for a cumulative score. The top 20 advance to the finals. That third round will be added to the other two scores to determine a national champion.
Bull and steer riders such as Tupper receive scores based off of an eight-second ride on the bucking animal.
Tupper said he became interested in the sport when he began riding with members of the Buchanan Dam Cowboy Church.
“I got pretty good at steers out there,” he said.
Soon, he was competing in junior high rodeos, as many as a dozen in a season, and was finishing high in the standings.
Once he set his goals to qualify for state and national rodeos, he attended two rodeos a month. Those finishes produced points. And when they were added together, he earned enough to qualify for the state rodeo.
Steer riders were guaranteed two runs at the state rodeo. But to move on to the finals, where they would get one more run, they had to finish in the top 15.
What Tupper enjoys most about riding steers and bulls is the rush he gets during competitions and practices.
“Just getting the thrill of it,” he said. “It’s a feeling you get when you’re riding.”
When he’s riding a bull, Tupper knows he has to be quicker to get out of the way once his ride is over.
“A steer is not going to come back at you,” he said. “A steer comes out and bucks. A bull – you don’t know what he’s going to do.”
While many of his family members roped, Tupper said he realized early on that wasn’t the sport for him.
“I like stuff that’s going to buck,” he said. “It’s the fun of it.”
Tupper is asking for community help in getting to the national rodeo. Call him at (512) 508-3626.