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Teens to participate in National Rodeo


Heather and Zack Varner with their championship saddles. (Tori J. Norris | The Standard)

TORI J. NORRIS | The Greenville Standard

Two local teens will be traveling to Gillette, Wyo. to compete in the National High School Finals Rodeo to be held July 17-23. But, this is not Zack and Heather Varner’s first rodeo.

Zack, 18, and Heather, 15, are the children of Johnnie and Billie Varner. The children have grown up around horses and been participating in rodeos for many years. Due to the amount of time spent participating in rodeos, both the children are home schooled.

“They spend three to four hours a day riding and training for their competition events,” said Billie, their mother. “If they are not riding, they are exercising their horses or practicing their roping techniques.”

The Varner children have participated in nineteen rodeos this year and are a part of the Alabama High School Rodeo Association. They were also both a part of the Alabama Junior High School Rodeo Association.

Zach, has qualified for nationals all four years since being a part of the AHSRA. This will be his second Nationals to attend. This year at the state finals, Zach qualified for nationals by placing first in team roping, and steer wrestling and third in calf roping, as well as being the all-around cowboy in the boys division.

His rodeo career will not end after his final national’s appearance. He has received a rodeo scholarship to East Mississippi Community College in Scooba, Miss.

Heather is in her second year of the AHSRA and has also qualified for nationals. Her wins in both pole bending and goat tying and her fourth place win in barrel racing qualified her to attend the National High School Finals Rodeo as well. Heather was named the all-around cowgirl at the Alabama High School Finals Rodeo in Andalusia.

“This is the first time that siblings have won the all-around in the same year,” said Billie.

Being involved in the rodeo association, is not a cheap activity. The Varners pay for everything out of pocket. “We have some sponsors, and are always looking for more,” said Billie. “But we also do some fundraisers to help offset costs, as well as when they make the national team, they receive some travel money, but it does not cover everything.” During the rodeos, there are sometimes cash payouts, but usually the winners take home belt buckles and saddles as their awards. “At the national competition, they will be competing for scholarship money,” said Billie.

The National High School Finals Rodeo will take place in Gillette. The rodeo is a week-long event with two full rounds of competition and a short go with the top 20 in each event.

The Varners will not be the only competitors with ties to Greenville. Garrett Hartzog, the son of Chris Hartzog and the grandson of Earnest and Gloria Dean all of Greenville, will also be competing. Garrett has been named Alabama High School Champion Bull Rider. He is a student at Stanhope Elmore High School in Millbrook.

We wish the best of luck to all the competitors and look forward to seeing how they do in Wyoming.

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