DICKSON — The quality of high school rodeo in the area was on display at the Oklahoma High School Rodeo Association Finals in Woodward, with several Carter County team ropers qualifying for nationals.

Payden Morse (header) and Carter Gurrola (heeler) from Dickson won the state title and Lone Grove’s Brady Norman (heeler) and Davis’ Tyler Milligan (header) finished as Reserve Champions in second place.

Colton Mize from Springer and Bradley Johnson from Fox finished third.

Points for the state title are accumulated throughout the season with 20 rodeos held across Oklahoma. 

“We traveled from the panhandle of Oklahoma to the northeastern corner to the southeast,” Morse said. “Just about everywhere in Oklahoma we’ve had a rodeo.”

The points carry over to the state rodeo and the Dickson pair were atop the standings heading into the finals held in June. 

After two rounds at state, the top 15 times carry to the short go round to decide champions and national qualifiers.

“We were 13 points ahead, stayed first all year,” Morse said. 

With a lead heading into the last round, the duo knew all they needed was a respectable time to win.

“After our first two at state, we knew on the third one we just had to go catch him and do what we had been doing,” Gurrola said. 

In each event, the top four finishers at the state finals qualified for the National High School Rodeo Finals in Rock Springs, Wyoming, starting July 13 and running through July 19.

Morse said he and Gurrola focused on being consistent at the state finals.

“We just tried to rope our same practice game and give everything we can,” Morse said. “We didn’t worry about anybody else, we just tried to stay consistent.”

The Dickson ropers have known each other since they were in elementary school and have been a team for several years.

“Since we were five or six we used to run around and crawl on hay stacks and mess around,” Gurrola said. 

It won’t be the first trip to Wyoming for the pair after making the national finals the last two years. 

Morse said their state final times match up well against other qualifiers.

“Oklahoma is one of the toughest states, Texas is a little bit tougher than Oklahoma,” Morse said. “With all the timed events it comes down to Oklahoma and Texas most of the time.”

Financial support from their families is crucial with fuel costs, feeding and caring for the horses and cattle needed for practice and events. Team ropers have two horses apiece available for events depending on conditions, injuries or other issues that could arise.

“You’ve got to have a lot of backing and a lot of want,” Morse said. “You can’t just do it. Cows aren’t cheap and ropes cost you $40 apiece. You burn up one of them a week.”

Morse and Gurrola spend much of their time at Dunn’s Outwest Arena near Dickson and are confident heading into next week’s trip to Wyoming.

“I feel good, I think we’re roping our best we’ve roped in a while,” Gurrola said. “We’re roping pretty good and have been practicing three or four times a week.”

Gurrola, a junior, also competed in the calf roping at the state rodeo but didn’t qualify and Morse, a senior, plans to calf rope next year.

“I competed at state but didn’t do no good,” Gurrola said. “I calf roped in junior high, went to state and made it to nationals.” 

The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association doesn’t sanction rodeo, but good grades are required to compete like any other high school sport.

Without the attention sports such as football receive with pep rallies and school support, commitment is a must for cowboys and cowgirls competing for state buckles.

“It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort and a lot of money,” Morse said. “Diesel isn’t cheap, horses and feed aren’t cheap. You’ve got to really want it and have to be competitive.”

Neither of the Dickson ropers compete in other sports due to the time involved to stay in top form for rodeo season. But, they hope it pays off in the future with college scholarships and both are striving to compete at the Pro Rodeo Cowboys Association level.

“We rope,” Morse said. “You can’t play other sports during the summer if you really dedicate yourself to roping. We rope three or four times a week and ride horses all day long. It’s something you’ve got to love or you’re going to get burned out quick.”

The NHSFR will be streamed live on NHSRATV.com at 7 p.m. on July 13 and 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. on each of the following days.