North Hopkins senior foregoes graduation ceremony for rodeo

By FAITH HUFFMAN, News-Telegram News Editor

June 29, 2008 - For most teens, graduation is the pinnacle of personal accomplishment, at least 12 years of hard work recognized with commencement exercises alongside their high school peers.

Bradley Ball, however, was awarded his diploma in front of fans, friends and family at the Four States High School Rodeo Finals where he went on to capture the title for being the best all around at the rodeo.

He had to make the decision to continue in the FSHRA Finals, which he had worked toward all year, or to attend his high school graduation.

For Ball, who has been competing in the rodeo in various events since 1999, the decision was easy.

"They were both the same weekend, June 7-8. As it came down, they were at about the same time. Graduation wasn't as important," said Bradley, son of Jackie and Harold Ball, and grandson of Sharon and Johnny Powell.

He'd completed the required years of school work and made his grades or he wouldn't have qualified to compete in the rodeo, but wasn't as interested in the "pomp and circumstance" of graduation.

Roping and rodeo is just "more exciting" to Ball, who is understated about his accomplishments and shies away from the limelight when family and friends point them out to others.

In true cowboy form, Bradley is a man of few words. He'd just assume let his roping speak for itself. He's also modest, making light of his accomplishments, shying away from the spotlight where others would seek it. He isn't too keen on having his picture made, but agreed to an interview for the News-Telegram and to have his picture taken out of respect for his mom, Jackie Ball, who's invested a lot over the years so Bradley could compete.

He started out riding bulls then eventually ended up roping, liking team roping best because it's the "easiest." He's competed with Dakota Vititow and Andrew Cameron in team roping.

How does a kid get started in rodeo? Bradley just followed his friend's lead.

"He got started in 99. One of his friends' dad roped. The kids roped. His friend Dakota [Vititow] rode junior bulls. He wanted to start ridin' too," said his mother, Jackie Ball. "Now, as a parent, that wasn't what you want for your kid. But he kept after me, wantin' it. I made him ride at home. He started free riding in a pasture. His first time he didn't want us to come, didn't want me to watch. He stopped riding his freshman year. He started roping after he got stepped on. Oh, he's rode a few times since, but he gave it up for calf ropin' and team roping."

"Team roping's the easiest. I hate roping, it's too much work," Bradley said, admitting that aside from his early years in FSHSR competition, he rarely practices because it just simply "gets too boring."

Why does he do it? Aside from the excitement it brings him, Bradley says the money's a nice pay-out for his effort. His mom, however, says that most times there's little left over after he pays the entry fees for the next rodeo.

"Some years are really long, and don't pay as good as others," Jackie said. "Whatever's left went to him after entry fees. But in the long run, it was worth it. Keeping him in it kept him out of trouble, but he's really a good kid. I'm proud of him."

There are 26 FSHSRA events each year. In order to earn enough points to think about qualifying for the finals, the students have to attend at least 50 to 60 percent of the events and maintain good grades to boot. They also have to finish in the top 15 in their event to compete in the Four States High School Rodeo Association Finals.

And, he wouldn't tell you himself but he's done good for himself over the years. Bradley has repeatedly competed at the finals over the last nine years. He took the top slot for junior steer riding. He's also had success team ropin and calf roping. Counting this year, Bradley has won eight saddles for first place, a trailer, 15 to 20 belt buckles for second through four place finishes, a trailer for best overall as well as several hats and cash.

This year, Bradley was ranked second all around behind Colton Poeschl, 630 points to Poeschl's 640.5. He was ranked first in team roping, second in chute dogging and tie-down roping, third in break-away roping and fifth in ribbon roping going into the finals rodeo.

When the finals concluded, Bradley went home with first for the year and second in average in chute dogging, second for the year and third in average in tie-down, first for the year and first in average in breakaway, four for the year and second in average in ribbon roping, first for the year and second in average in team roping. With numbers like those, it's not surprise, that Bradley scored high enough at the finals to usurp Poeschl, as the best all around competitor.

He also went home with a two-horse trailer for best all around, a saddle in chute doggin', breakaway and team roping, three belt buckles, four hat certificates, four free photo certificates and a $2,150 cash award. Overall, that's about a $10,000 haul, not a bad reward for a kid who was presented his high school diploma on the floor just before the tie-down competition Saturday.

As for rodeo, he said he likely won't be actively pursuing it for a few years, but does plan to do some more team roping. His favorite, because it's the easiest.

Bradley hasn't quite decided yet what life has in store for him for the long haul, but at this point doesn't think he'll be hitting the books at college any time soon. But, until he does decide a path, he'll be working to earn money. He starts a new job Monday in Birthright installing cabinets in houses..

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