The Magnificent Seven

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Seven young Valencia County rodeo stars will head to Gallup this weekend to take on the best competitors in their age groups at the National Junior High School Finals Rodeo.

Submitted photo: VALENCIA COUNTY JUNIOR RODEO riders and ropers, pictured from left, Kyle Lucero, Marisela Sandoval, Blaine Garley, Abbie Shofner, Hayley McNiel, Roberto Galaz and Brody Wade will participate in the National Junior High Finals Rodeo, which begins Sunday, June 23, and runs through Saturday, June 29, at Red Rock Park in Gallup.

Featuring more than 1,000 contestants from 41 states, five Canadian provinces and Australia, the NJHFR is the world’s largest junior high rodeo.

The competition at Red Rock Park kicks off on Sunday, June 23, and goes through Saturday, June 29.

Ranging in age from 11 to 14, the seven competitors from around the county are Kyle Lucero, Marisela Sandoval, Abbie Shofner, Brody Wade, Roberto Galaz, Hayley McNiel and Blaine Garley.

Lucero, the son of Donald and Anita Lucero, qualified for the national competition in team roping.

“Rodeo is important to me because I get to spend time with my family and friends,” Lucero, 14, said. “I feel that making it to nationals is a big accomplishment in my rodeo career.”

Sandoval is a two-event qualifier — barrel racing and team roping with partner, Wade.

“I have a love and passion for rodeo and couldn’t imagine how my life would be without it,” Sandoval said. “I am very excited for going and representing the state of New Mexico, and hope to bring home two national titles.”

The 12-year-old said she felt lucky and blessed to be able to compete at nationals this year and hopes to make her friends, family, sponsors and supporters proud.

Shofner, of Tomé, qualified in breakaway roping.

“Rodeo is important to me because it is a way of life for me and I feel very blessed to compete in the sport I love,” Shofner said. “Rodeo has taught me much about responsibility, perseverance and the value of hard work to achieve my goals.”

The daughter of Tom and Rhonda Shofner, the 13-year-old said she wanted to thank God, for giving her the opportunity to rodeo, her parents and family for their love and support, and Lindsey and Glen Ezell, Eddie Nieto, and Russell and Shacey Sullivan for their many hours with her in the practice pen.

“I will do my best to make Valencia County proud,” she said.

Wade, 14, is the son of Buster and Lisa Wade. The Los Lunas resident qualified for nationals by placing second in state in goat tying and third in state in chute dogging team roping.

He was also the 2012 Rookie of the Year for New Mexico Junior High Rodeo and 2012 Goat Tying Student Director.

“Rodeo is important to me because it has taught me how to work hard at a sport that I love where I am a team with my horses,” Wade said. “Rodeo teaches me a lot of responsibility such as caring for 27 animals and how to be self motivated to practice on my own and keep my horses in shape.”

Going to nationals for Wade means all the hard work and stressful hours in the practice pen have finally paid off.

“It shows me the work I have put in and the work ethic I have was reflected on this year’s performance,” he said. “I am happy to represent New Mexico at the national finals rodeo, showing them how great my state is.”

Galaz, 11, qualified in boy’s breakaway roping and light rifle shooting. He is the son of Alex and Vikki Galaz of Los Lunas.

“Rodeo is important to me because I have been inspired by the professional ropers and what they do for a living,” Galaz said. “I like the sport of rodeo because when I rope, it is like a burst of energy and fun to get out there and do what you love.”

Going to nationals means that Galaz has accomplished an opportunity of a lifetime to compete against students from across the country and around the globe.

“I am very proud to represent the state of New Mexico,” he said.

NcNiel, 12, qualified in barrel racing and breakaway roping. She is the New Mexico Junior High barrel racing champion, placed fourth in the breakaway roping and is the New Mexico Junior High Reserve All-Around Champion, as well as the Rookie of the Year.

She is the daughter of Chris and Summer McNiel of Los Lunas

“Being a sixth-grader, I felt like I had a great season of rodeo this year in New Mexico. Now I am extremely excited to go compete against the rest of the country,” McNiel said.

McNiel thanked her parents for all their support, as well as her younger sister, Payton, and her grandfather for “always being there for me at the rodeos and all the help they gave me this year.”

In addition to competing for titles and more than $75,000 in prizes, contestants will also be vying for more than $100,000 in college scholarships.

The June 29 championship will be televised on RFD-TV. Live broadcasts of each NJHFR performance will also air online at www.NHSRATV.com. Performance times are 7 p.m., June 23, and 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. every day after.

Created in 2004, the National High School Rodeo Association Junior High Division was established to bring the excitement of the sport to sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders and to serve as a feeder system.