By Ann Bleiker
First Ever Wrangler National Finals Breakaway Roping
Set For December in Texas
The 15 WPRA Breakaway Ropers who have earned qualification to the first-ever Wrangler National Finals Breakaway Roping (NFBR) event at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, run the gamut when it comes to number of years in the business and accolades in the sport but one thing is for certain they are all excited about this opportunity to shine on ProRodeo’s grandest stage.
“Excited…surprised obviously but super excited…almost like a sigh of relief that we are finally getting to go to these places and it is getting bigger and better every year,” said Jackie Crawford when asked what her emotions have been since the announcement was made about the Wrangler NFBR. “I used to dream about it all the time and would think how cool it would be. I guess if you can see it, you can make it happen. Dreams really do come true.”
Crawford first joined the WPRA in 2006 and since that time has roped her way to a total of 19 world titles including two in breakaway roping in 2014 and 2016. In fact, Crawford is the second most decorated member of the WPRA behind the late ProRodeo Hall of Famer Wanda Bush, who finished her career with an astonishing 32 world titles.
“It is a cool spot to be in and watch the level of competition,” said Crawford of Stephenville, Texas, when asked how it feels to bridge the past and present together in terms of world titles and this next chapter in WPRA’s illustrious history. “Winning a world title this year will take the same amount of toughness but it will definitely be a different atmosphere when it comes down to the final rounds and clinching that buckle. I feel just as proud of the world titles already won as I will if able to win this year on a lot bigger stage.”
Crawford, who will be six months pregnant at the Finals with her second child a baby girl, enters as the No. 2 roper behind Idaho’s Cassie Bahe Latham. Bahe Latham used her big win at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo to propel her to the top of the leaderboard and finished the regular season with $26,424 in earnings at 12 rodeos.
“I don’t think the earnings going in will matter much with the amount of money up for grabs at the Finals,” said Bahe Latham when asked about going in to the Finals in the No. 1 spot. “I think the 15th place girl could come out a world champion with the added money. I am not thinking I have any big advantage going in No. 1 and I just plan to stay focused on the job at hand.”
Bahe Latham, who now resides in Rigby, Idaho, will definitely be a name you will want to remember for trivia purposes if nothing else in terms of who was the first ever breakaway roper to wear the No. 1 back number.
“It will be super awesome,” said the 25-year old about having the honor of wearing the No. 1 back number. “I am glad I could represent our sport in this way and excited to see the event going in the direction it is and hope I can keep it moving forward.”
Bahe Latham joined the WPRA in 2018 along with her younger sister, Anna, and the duo has been a force to be reckoned with first in the Wilderness Circuit and now on the national stage. In 2019, Anna edged Cassie for the Wilderness Circuit title by just 30-cents but Cassie now leads the way in 2020 heading into the NFBR. Anna is currently ranked 11th and Cassie is excited to share this career milestone with her sister.
“It is awesome to have this opportunity,” said Cassie. “We practice together all the time and we are both super competitive, so we push each other to be better every day. It is cool to have someone there to help you out and especially since we can’t have anyone in the box with us at the Finals besides those entered, so it will be super nice to have her there to help me and me to help her.
“The competition at the Finals is going to be super tough, so it is nice to practice with at least one of your competitors just to stay sharp. We are equally excited for each other to win and do well. It is like a team sport for us even though it is technically an individual sport.”
Unfortunately the Bahe sisters will be without their top horse, Roy, who helped qualify both of them to Arlington. The family made the tough decision to put the horse down on October 28 after complications from colic surgery that was performed on October 18. Roy was owned by the girls’ dad Francis. Cassie now plans to use her young horse Smokey, while Anna is looking to lease a horse for the big event.
“I think the Fort Worth experience will help me at the Finals,” noted Cassie. “Fort Worth was my first really big win against the top girls and it helped showed me that I could compete with these high level girls. It was definitely a confidence booster for me.
“I went through junior high and high school with the goal to win a national championship but was never able to achieve that, so to have another chance at this level and this time in my life is just awesome. I am just so thankful.”
While Cassie Bahe Latham will be looking for her first world title, the veteran Crawford will be looking to add another to her already illustrious career but admits she will probably still have butterflies on opening day.
“I will definitely be nervous and definitely have butterflies,” admitted Crawford. “No different than anything new or big it always brings different emotions to you. I hope between what I do and the stages I have been on, I will know how to control those emotions and nerves and by the time I back in the box they are gone and I can just go do my job.”
The Bahe’s and Crawford will be challenged in each round by a slew of talented ropers including JJ Hampton, who has been a member of the WPRA longer than most of these ropers have been alive. Hampton joined the WPRA in 1991 and has amassed a total of 17 world titles including three breakaway roping world titles in 1995-96 and 1999 before it was so “cool” to be a breakaway roper. Erin Johnson qualified for the NFBR in the final hole at No. 15 but she too has three world breakaway roping titles to her name won in 2011-12 and 2015. Lari Dee Guy, the founder of the Rope Like A Girl campaign, enters the first-ever NFBR with two breakaway roping world titles (2008, 2010), while Hope Thompson won her first breakaway world title in 2013.
All the action will be live streamed on the Wrangler Network, Dec. 8-10 starting at 10 a.m. CT.