The team of Damian Padilla, 14, of Rio Rico and Michael Calmelat, 12, of Tucson snagged second place at the recent National Junior High Rodeo Association team roping finals in Des Moines, Iowa.

This is a highly competitive timed event in which two mounted contestants, known as a header and a heeler, rope and restrain a full-grown steer.

After the header ropes the steer, they wrap the rope around the horn of their saddle in a “dally” to secure the steer and turn him to the left. This opens the opportunity for the heeler to catch the steer’s hind legs. It requires precise timing and cooperation between the teammates.

If one of the steer’s feet comes free, there is a five-second penalty. This is what cost Padilla and Calmelat the first-place prize during the short round of their event.

Before leaving the chute, the steer is given a head start, determined by a length of rope known as a “barrier.” The strategy is to aim for the best score without breaking the barrier – a 10-second penalty – and catching both feet to avoid a 5-second penalty.

Padilla and Calmelat roped the first steer in 5.84 seconds. In the second round they clocked 7.88 seconds, which netted a combined 13.72. This put the pair in first place and qualified them for a “short round” in which the top 15 teams compete.

In the short round, their time was 12.05 seconds, including a 5-second penalty. To rope all three steers, it took them 25.77 seconds.

The No. 1 team in the first round clocked 7.57 seconds and in the second round it took them 8.37 seconds to rope the steer. They netted 15.94 seconds on two steers, 2.2 seconds slower than Padilla and Calmealat.

In the short round, however, they were timed at 7.67 seconds, which got them to 23.61 seconds on three steers.

“The most exciting point of the competition for me was when I walked into the box and the announcer told the crowd, ‘Here is your No. 1 team (going into) the short round, Damian Padilla and Michael Calmelat,’” Padilla said. “The feeling of knowing I was No. 1 in the short round was amazing.”

“Something I really enjoy doing is testing my skills and trying to do the fastest and smoothest run possible,” he added.

The 2021 National Junior High Finals Rodeo was held June 20-26.

Like most of the other rodeo events, the history of team roping evolved from the practices on ranches in the Old American West during the 1800s to safely treat an injured member of the herd or to brand or tag calves.

Padilla, a freshman at Rio Rico High School, is the son of Damian and Renee Padilla. His teammate attends school in Tucson. He is the son of Michael Calmelat and Rachel Mendoza.

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