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‘Richest Rodeo in the West’ opens today

The Associated Press

RENO — An up-and-coming young buck who’s trading his basketball shoes for cowboy boots and the defending world champion bull rider are among the headliners this week at the 94th Reno Rodeo, dubbed the “Richest Rodeo in the West.”

Three months ago, 18-year-old T.J. McCauley was competing as a first-team, all-conference basketball player at Spanish Springs High School. Now, the young phenom who’s been chasing calves on horseback as an amateur since he was 13 will be roping alongside the best team ropers in the world.

“It’s finally going to count this year,” McCauley told the Reno Gazette-Journal. “I’m excited.”

McCauley made his first appearance before the rodeo crowd at the Reno Livestock Events Center in 2007, at age 13, with an exhibition team roping run with fellow teen Shane Bohach. For several years after that, he and his younger brother, A.M., made exhibition runs at the rodeo.

In 2010, he and 17-year-old partner Quinn Kesler finished seventh in the Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic — the world’s richest open roping event — during Reno Rodeo week and they bettered it the next year with a second-place finish, winning more than $47,000 apiece.

“He’s a great natural talent,” BFI founder Bob Feist said. “He’s got great horsemanship, and he’s also got great roping ability. He’s dedicated to what he does, and he’s proven himself at the BFI on more than one occasion already.”

Now that he has turned 18, filled his Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association permit and bought his PRCA card, McCauley is ready to compete for the money — and the Silver Spurs — at the Reno Rodeo.

The Reno Rodeo is the unofficial start of the summer run of rodeos from late June through late July that PRCA cowboys refer to as “Cowboy Christmas,” because it’s when they can earn the lion’s share of prize money for the year.

More than $2 million in prize money will be paid out between the rodeo and the auxiliary events that accompany it. About $500,000 of that comes from the rodeo itself and $1 million from the Reno Rodeo Invitational Team Roping.

More than 650 of the top cowboys and cowgirls from the PRCA and Women’s Professional Rodeo Association are scheduled to compete. Events include bareback, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding.

Defending world champion Cody Teel is among the 40 top bull riders from the PRCA competing in the Reno Xtreme Bulls event at Thursday night’s opener to the 10-day run through June 29. He shattered his elbow in a spill in March, which required 10 screws, two plates and a two-month layoff to repair. But he found a silver lining.

“With the time off with my arm, the rest of my body had time to catch up,” said the 21-year-old from Kountze, Texas. “At the time I hurt my arm, I was pretty sore all over.”

But he never considered skipping the trip to Reno.

“I’m tired of sitting out,” he said. “With my broken arm, I was out about 2 1/2 months, so I’m ready to go.”

Others competing for the Xtreme Bulls’ $50,000 purse include 2011 world champion Shane Proctor of Grand Coulee, Wash.; three-time (2008-2010) world champion J.W. Harris, of Mullin, Texas; and 2007 World Champion Wesley Silcox of Santaquin, Utah.