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Deep seat and a tight grip

By By Connie Nowlin
connie.nowlin@atmoreadvance.com
A 17-year-old area resident will represent the state later this summer when he rides for the bullriding buckle at the National High School Rodeo Association finals.
Those finals will be held July 21-28 in Farmington, N.M. There will be 13 go-rounds, held two per day, with the short go to be held Sunday afternoon.
Flowers, who will be a junior at Escambia County High School this year, began riding at age 13.
"I just ride for the rush," he said, explaining why he deliberately gets on bulls that might like the opportunity to do him bodily harm. "My uncles got me started in it and just went from there."
He does not worry too much about injuries, but seems to accept them as part of the sport he loves.
"You know you are going to get hurt, it's just when," Flowers said.
He rode in 17 rodeos this year and plans to join the Professional Cowboys Association next year and compete "with the grownups" in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee.
But first he has a shot at the high school championship title.
To earn the chance to compete at Farmington, Flowers first had to win the state championship at Montgomery June 11-14.
His first bull bucked out of the chute pretty hard, he said, rocking him over onto his hand and throwing him.
"It was almost over from the start," he joked.
The second bull was Highway 101, PCA bucking bull of the year.
It turned to the right and also threw Flowers before the eight-second buzzer sounded.
He knew he had to ride his third bull to do well in the competition. Up to that point, no one had covered his bulls, that is, had a qualified ride.
"The stock contractor told me if I rode this bull, I would win it (the championship). Those stands, man, my mama was jumping up and down and hollering.
"The bull came out two jumps and spun to the left, away from my hand, and just stayed in that left spin. He ran out of it at seven seconds. I was so happy I couldn't stand up."
Flowers and his family are in the process of lining up sponsors to help with the expenses of going to the finals.
So far, he has contacted several sponsors locally. Hopes are to fly to New Mexico, since the road trip would take 26 hours.
When he gets there, though, it won't be just a case of ride until he is eliminated or wins.
The national association has lined up a week packed with activities for the young contestants.
"We have all kinds of activities for the kids," a spokeswoman in the Denver national headquarters said.
"There is a volleyball tournament and a basketball tourney.
"There is also a rodeo for the special kids of Farmington," she said.
That is where the contestants work with children with special needs or disabilities. The contestants may help the child twirl a rope, sit on a saddle bronc rig attached to a bale of hay, or even ride a horse if it is especially docile.
And there is a foundation auction where the donations from each participant state or Canadian province are sold to benefit the foundation.
Those proceeds are then used to fund scholarships.
And that is part of the benefit of participating in high school rodeo.
Winners are awarded scholarships, and contestants, even though they may not win, are also eligible for scholarship money. More than $200,000 will be given to contestants this year, the spokeswoman said.
Additionally, there are a lot of other prizes to be had.
For instance, the winner in the all-around category will have use of a new trailer for a year with the option to buy it at the end of the year. Winners in each event, such as bullriding or barrel racing, will receive a trophy saddle, typically with the event and year inscribed on the leather.
There are also prizes for go-round winners in each event, prizes such as clothing, hats, boots, jackets and gift certificates.
And then there is that coveted championship buckle.
"I want to try my dangdest out there, and show them that we have a good association," Flowers said.
"I just want to ride all three of my bulls out there. That's my dream, to win the National High School Rodeo Association championship."