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Youth Directors Take Center Stage at
“World’s Richest High School Rodeo”

By:  Tammie HiattThe Youth Directors are shown in a picture and are left to right:  Cody Mills, Chris Attkisson, Dayton Adams, Mary Gentry, Samantha Tenpenny, and Jessie Litkenhus

Without a doubt, the International Finals Youth Rodeo is the ultimate rodeo experience for high school age cowboys and cowgirls.  Where else but Shawnee, OK can contestants compete head to head for a chance at the $200,000 payoff that is up for grabs at the eleven-performance super show? 

The 2010 edition of the IFYR takes place July 12-17.  This year, to better accommodate the contestants that will be traveling on to the NHSRA finals in Gillette, WY, the short-go of the IFYR has been scheduled for 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 17.

Competing at the “world’s richest high school rodeo” is an experience all in itself, but for six individuals the IFYR takes on a very different aspect.  With nearly 1,000 contestants and their families in attendance at the Heart of Oklahoma Expo Center, it’s a big job to ensure that everything runs smoothly both in and out of the arenas.  That’s where the IFYR Youth Director program comes into play.  The youth director program was implemented as a way to make this rodeo a true “youth” rodeo in every sense of the word.  The youth directors monitor the competition in each of the three arenas making sure each contestant has a fair and equal opportunity.  If a question does arise, the youth directors act as a liaison between the contestant and the judge to resolve the issue.

Their duties continue outside of the arenas as well.  A “no tolerance” policy along with a strict set of ground rules focus on the safety of all who attend the IFYR.  Often the youth directors are called upon to make tough decisions regarding rule infractions among their fellow competitors. 

With their role at the IFYR clearly in front of them, the youth directors also must balance their official duties with their performance as competitors.  It takes a special group of young people to fill the youth director positions year after year. 

The 2010 group shared their thoughts on being selected as youth directors and what each of them brings to the table.  Jessie Litkenhus from Frankfurt, KY is serving her first term as an IFYR Youth Director.  She attended her first IFYR in 2009 and competes in goat tying, pole bending and breakaway roping.  “I thought the youth director program sounded like a good opportunity and also a way to gain exposure in the Kentucky area for the IFYR.  I’m 16 and the youngest of the group and want others that are young to not be afraid to try out for the youth director program.  I have good leadership skills and know this experience will make them better,” said Jessie.  As far as dealing with issues that may arise during the rodeo, “I plan to just take it as I go and make on the spot decisions.”

Dayton Adams of Middleton, TN is serving his second term as a youth director.  The 18-year-old will be college bound after the 2010 IFYR and plans to attend a school in Texas where he will pursue an agricultural based degree.  He competes in the tie-down roping, team roping, and steer wrestling.  “I had a blast being youth director last year,” Dayton remarked.  “You get to be behind the scenes and see how the rodeo is run.  The more experience I get in things like this, the more it helps me all the way around.” 

“I’m good under pressure,” Adams said.  “I can tell it like it is.  Rules are rules and if they’re broken, there are consequences.  My mom and dad both rodeoed, so I have a good rodeo background and that’s helped a lot.”

Cody Mills of Sturgis, MS is a 17-year-old senior that is also serving his second term as youth director and is also Dayton’s partner in the team roping. “Being a youth director opens a lot of doors and provides a lot of opportunity to get to know a lot of people.  I can deal with people and make hard decisions.  We had to make some last year and it can be hard to do.  I’m having fun promoting the IPRA and the IFYR.  I’m going to be in the rough stock arena this year at the IFYR so I will have to learn a whole new set of rules,” said Mills.

Mary Gentry from Perry, GA is also in her last year of IFYR competition.  She competes in the barrel racing and pole bending.  “A former youth director talked to me about the program and talked me into it.  It’s a good opportunity to meet people and learn a lot.  I will be with Cody in the rough stock arena.  The judges are all good to work with and that will help us out since we are both new to rough stock events,” Mary said.  “I love to talk and love meeting people so I am really excited about the IFYR this year.” 

“I plan to go to either New Mexico Junior College or West Texas College in Snyder to become an E.R. Nurse,” said Gentry. 

Chris Attkisson of St. Cloud, FL is also serving his first term as a youth director.  The 18-year-old senior first competed at the IFYR in 2009.  “I rodeo with the Gator Dawgs and this is “the” rodeo to come to.  I was interested in all that was involved.  Three of us from our team applied for the youth director program and I got picked.  I am an Eagle Scout and that plays a major role in preparing for this rodeo.  I can talk in front of people, no problem,” said Chris.  “I will be competing in the steer wrestling and team roping.  After high school I plan to go to the University of Tennessee in Martin and study Ag.” 

Samantha Tenpenny from Topeka, KS will be making her third trip to the IFYR.  She competes in the goat tying, breakaway roping, and the team roping.  “I interviewed for the youth director program in my sophomore year, but wasn’t selected.  I knew I wanted to be a part of this program, so I applied again.  I am really excited to have been selected,” said the 18-year-old cowgirl. 

“I am really outgoing and can relate to people.  I have served as the president of the KHSRA and I learned a lot from that experience.  A lot of being a youth director at the IFYR is making sure that everyone gets an equal shot and being able to step back and look at the bigger picture if something does come up,” said Samantha. 

Tenpenny has not yet decided on a college yet, but wants to pursue a degree in animal science.

Pre-entries for the IFYR open April 1, 2010.  For more information or to download an entry form visit the website at www.ifyr.com