By Cecilia Chan
GSN Managing Editor

Stephanie Carr’s keen eye and steady hand with a .22-caliber long rifle earned her a spot to compete at the 2019 National High School Finals Rodeo.

The 17-year-old Gilbert resident was in Rock Springs, Wyoming, last week with her rodeo team for the finals.

“I’m a little bit nervous,” Stephanie said before the competition began. “But I’m used to shooting at big competitions like that.”

Stephanie placed second in the state for shooting, qualifying her for the national competition. This is the fourth year the teen has qualified to compete in the finals.

Stephanie comes from a hunting family and has been shooting competitively for four years.

“It’s like a place for me to escape and it’s fun,” Stephanie said of the sport. “I like telling everybody about it and having other people get into shooting competitions.”

The teen practices shooting twice a week, each time for two hours at Rio Salado Sportsman’s Club’s shooting range.

The national competition attracts over 1,600 student contestants who vie in categories such as barrel racing, steer wrestling, goat tying and shooting.

National High School Rodeo Association student members compete at state levels for local recognition and the top four contestants in each event qualify for the rodeo held annually in July. In order to be a member, students must be in good standing and make passing grades in four subjects.

Contestants come from 43 states, five Canadian provinces, Australia and Mexico to participate in what is touted as the world’s largest rodeo.

The students compete for over $150,000 in prizes, over $375,000 in college scholarships and the chance to be named an NHSFR World Champion. To earn this title, contestants must finish in the top 20, based on their three-round combined times/scores.

Although Stephanie didn’t place in the top 20 in last week’s finals, she ranked 38 out of 200 contestants who are considered the cream of the crop.

“Yeah, I’m happy with it,” Stephanie said. “I was competing as a sophomore against juniors and seniors.”

In last year’s finals, Stephanie ranked No. 25 as a freshman and No. 11 the year before as an eighth-grader. In her rookie year, she placed No. 86.

“I definitely had fun,” Stephanie said. “You learn a lot every time you compete.”

She said this year she’s learned to not let the pressure get to her as she stood toe-to-toe with 19 other shooters at the same time as they aimed at their targets with hundreds of eyes focused on them.

Although she’s proven her merit in shooting, Stephanie’s passion is with competitive horse riding.

“I enjoy shooting, but I love my riding events,” she said. “I placed in the top 10 for Arizona in Pole Bending this year. It was a good feeling, too.”

Stephanie rides six days a week.

She has five horses on her family’s property, including two – Snickers and Silverado – that she uses the most for practice.

“I was 5 when my family went to a dude ranch and I rode a horse,” Stephanie said. “I told my mom I wanted to come back and take lessons.”

Although Stephanie earned her way to the competition with hard work, she acknowledged the support from American Leadership Academy-Queen Creek High School, where she will be an 11th-grader this year. 

“The school has been supportive through all of this and let me take time off school,” she said.

The rodeo’s shooting competitions take place 11 times a year always on a Friday so she misses school, mom Shelly Stephanie explained.

The NHSRA is an international nonprofit organization with the mission to develop sportsmanship, horsemanship and character in youths through the sport of rodeo.

The organization also hosts The National Junior High Finals Rodeo and held its first finals in Hallettsville, Texas in 1949.

The event was created by Texas educator and rodeo contestant Claude Mullins.