Some mamas let their babies grow up to be cowboys and cowgirls, even in Kentucky.
On Sunday, the best among those young people took part in the finals of the Kentucky Junior High School Rodeo state championship at the Kentucky Horse Park.
Additionally, students took part in the final round of qualifying for the Kentucky High School Rodeo Association state finals next month at Murray State University.
Wearing big belt buckles, Levis and a variety of awesome cowboy hats that made bold statements about their toughness, the youngsters provided thrills and spills for the several hundred people in the audience at the park's covered arena. They were there to see bareback bronc riding, steer wrestling, tie-down calf roping and bull riding.
"There are more cowboys and cowgirls in the state of Kentucky than people realize," David Story of Calvert City said during Sunday's event.
Story has been working with young people in Kentucky rodeo competitions for more than 30 years.
Interest in the sport, he said, ebbs and flows with the economy because it can get expensive caring for a horse and traveling to competitions.
A former national director for the National High School Rodeo Association for seven years, Story now is involved with a program that provides college scholarships for rodeo participants.
"It's a great sport," he said. "You have to be an athlete to participate, you have to be a good student and you have to conduct yourself properly. It's not too dangerous if you're careful, and it's attracting a lot of kids."
Most of the state's rodeo riders come from Central and Western Kentucky, he said.
The organization is trying to attract more youngsters from Eastern Kentucky and more minorities, he added.
One Eastern Kentucky rodeo star is Jon Collins, 19, of Jackson, who will graduate in two weeks from Breathitt County High School.
Collins thinks little of riding flat on his back for eight seconds on a bucking horse going 30 mph. Bareback riding is his forte, and he has an excellent chance of making it to the national high school championship in Wyoming in July.
Collins just started competing about a year ago. He moved to Eastern Kentucky four years ago after growing up in Harrison County.
"I've always loved horses and I got some good training about two years ago in bareback riding," he said. "I hope to attend Murray State this fall and be on its rodeo team."
Lori England of Shelby County and Belinda Whited of Crittenden County said they were thankful their children participated in rodeos.
England has two sons: Justin in junior high school and Chris in high school. Whited's daughter, Kimberlee, is in the seventh grade.
All of their children, said the mothers, started in rodeos as kindergartners.
"They learn how to win and lose. Some children aren't taught losing. They learn about ethics and fellowship," said England. "It's a competitive sport but different from others because you see them cheering on and helping people who are beating them. You really are competing against yourself."
Whited said the sport had taught her daughter self-confidence and perseverance.
"My Lord, yes, these kids love to be called cowboys and cowgirls. It's a compliment to them," she said.
Russell Kreider of Danville is Kentucky's national high school director for the rodeo competition.
He is a retired restaurant inspector for the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department and now works for a feed store. He has two children who went to college on rodeo scholarships.
"What I like about all this is that it teaches children the highest type of conduct and sportsmanship," he said.