By Jolee Jordan
Las Vegas, Nevada — The ultimate goal of every professional barrel racer is to pull a horse trailer into the Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas in early December, saddle up and race for a WPRA World title through the 10 nights of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR). It is the brass ring for rodeo competitors.
As part of their qualification to the WNFR, competitors receive an impressive prize package, headlined of course by the $10,000 guaranteed check from Las Vegas Events and filled out with loads of other gifts courtesy of PRCA/WPRA major sponsors.
“The first year I made it, they told me, ‘make sure you leave a stall empty in your trailer to haul all the prizes home,” laughs Jana Bean, who first made the trip in 2014 and will return for a third consecutive time in 2016. “They weren’t kidding.”
In the fall of each year, unknown to fans and many competitors until they experience it, all potential WNFR contestants get to try on a WNFR contestant jacket and are sized for a ring during one of the final regular season rodeos.
“The first year, I was so on the bubble,” notes Bean, who used last week heroics to punch her first ticket to Vegas that year. “[When I tried on the jacket], I thought, I want one so bad and I’ll be so sad if I don’t get it.”
While the jackets, along with contestant back numbers, remain a very popular and incredibly visual sign of status as one of the sports’ best in a given year, the rings are often an unexpected and welcomed surprise. Many cowgirls are unaware of their existence.
“I had no idea they gave a ring,” agrees Bean although four-time WPRA World Champion Sherry Cervi was one who wasn’t surprised by the gift.
“I had seen the rings [other contestants had earned] and I was excited to be getting one,” Cervi notes of her first trip to the WNFR back in 1994.
When Montana Silversmiths came on board with pro rodeo as a sponsor in 2000, the company took over the design and production of 120 rings each year, one for each contestant at that year’s WNFR.
Not a brass ring, of course, the rings are made of a highly durable material known as Permaglo which resembles white gold. Permaglo is actually an alloy of several different metals. It is completely resistant to breakage—an important trait for rodeo competitors—and cannot be heated to resize, thus the sizing that occurs in the final month of the regular season each year. It has to be just right when built.
According to Callie Adams, National Events Manager of Montana Silversmiths, the semi-precious stone set in each ring differs from year to year in order to be unique for those contestants. The design and stone are approved by PRCA.
“It’s like Christmas with all the awards,” Cervi notes. She will make her record-tying 19th appearance at the 2016 WNFR; to wear all her rings at once, Cervi would use up every finger and nearly every toe to boot.
“I have 16 and I keep them in my jewelry box,” she notes, adding that she has given a couple away over the years for special causes. “They’re all together in there.”
“I took it out and put it on right away,” says Bean of receiving her first ring at the annual Welcome Party and Back Number Reception held in the days prior to the start of the WNFR each year. “I took a picture and sent it to my son.”
“It’s like a Super Bowl ring . . . like my own Super Bowl ring,” she laughs. “It’s pretty cool.”
It’s a fitting correlation to draw given that the WNFR is often called the “Super Bowl of rodeo.”
The rings are designed with the year surrounding the stone as well as a miniature replica of a WNFR back number along with the PRCA logo on either side.
“I keep mine displayed at home but if I go someplace nice, I’ll drag it out and wear it,” says Bean.
Every contestant appreciates the piles of awards that go along with reaching the summit of the sport and the rings are especially appreciated.
“It’s really cool that Montana Silversmiths does that,” notes Bean.
“It means a lot to get one,” adds Cervi.
For more information on Montana Silversmiths and their products, please visit them on-line at www.montanasilversmiths.com. Stay tuned to www.wpra.com for nightly updates from the 2016 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo beginning December 1.
Courtesy of WPRA