LOS LUNAS — Saddle up. The high school rodeo season in New Mexico has arrived.
For four years, the Valencia County Rodeo Team has been right in the middle of riding, roping and wrestling — steer wrestling that is.
Tim Cornwell is the head coach and sponsor of the team. Cornwell is a staff member at Los Lunas High School, but the team has members from all across the county — Isleta, Los Lunas, Belen and beyond.
Cornwell says there are no boundaries for participation and there has been interest before from Albuquerque to Socorro. According to the coach, fifth-graders through high school age can join, including home-schooled students. Just maintain your grades, and have a love for the sport. And they do.
Bull rider William VanDielen, a junior from Los Lunas, said rodeo is indeed a team sport.
“There’s a lot of help in the chutes and everything like that,” VanDielen said. “It takes a lot of commitment, but I think it’s worth it.”
Down the road, Cornwell will round up rough stock for riders who compete in saddle bronc, bareback and bull riding.
“Once I find out what kind of team I have, how many bull riders, team ropers and what not, I’ll start setting up practices,” Cornwell said. “I’ll start trying to get some horses and bulls in at the Valencia County Sheriff’s Posse Arena in Belen.”
Siblings Phillip and Myranda Jiron sharpen their skills at home on the Pueblo of Isleta. Myranda, an eighth-grader who competes in barrels, team roping and calf tying, says rodeo is in her DNA.
“My family has been a part of rodeo. That’s kind of our lifestyle — they just kind of brought me along,” Myranda said.
One of her continuing goals?
“Basically, just try and beat my brother in everything,” she said.
That brother, Phillip, is a bareback rider and team roper, who has been on the Valencia County Rodeo Team since he was in the sixth grade.
“It’s like an individual sport,” Phillip said, “but you have your buddies here to help you, help you get set up, help you along the way.”
Rodeo is not easy, but the word “fun” kept coming up when talking to team members.
“It’s a lot of fun. Something to do when you’re bored,” is how William VanDielen, the bull rider, describes it.
“Mr. Cornwell really makes it fun,” Phillip Jiron said. “He really knows what he’s talking about.”
Cornwell enjoys it, too.
“It’s a lot of fun,” Cornwell said. “I really like it because it keeps the kids from running around and getting into trouble.”
The Valencia County Rodeo Team competes in the fall and spring seasons, with the first rodeo set for Aug. 27-28 in Socorro.
In May, the state rodeo finals will determine who qualifies for the New Mexico team that will compete at the National High School Finals Rodeo, which will be held in Gillette, Wyo., in July.
For more information about the team and how to join, contact Tim Cornwell at [email protected].
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.