Fans of team roping received a special treat recently, with the running of the second annual Nueces Classic in conjunction with the Nueces County Junior Livestock Show.
The event, which was held at the Richard M. Borchard Regional Fairgrounds, drew more than 300 competitors from around the state, vying for prize money and bragging rights.
The event is organized by two brothers, Scot and Shane Brown, former Banquete residents who now make their home in Orange Grove.
The event is non-profit, with prize money awarded to the competitors and a portion given to provide scholarships for participants in the junior livestock show.
The Number 10 division team roping was won by Ventura Conde, a 1992 Bishop High School graduate who now calls Robstown home.
Conde, who worked as the heeler for his team, was partnered with Marcos Flores, of Edinburg.
In team roping competition, two partners are randomly assigned together. One is designated as the heeler, the rider responsible for roping the hind legs of the heifer. The other rider is designated as the header, and is responsible for roping the head. That random assignment, along with a system that ranks riders according to skill level, is part of what has caused growth in the sport over the past few years, Scot Brown said Monday.
"It's allowed the weekenders to go rope and compete," Brown said. "These guys that sit in the office all week can go out and compete. It keeps things at their level."
Conde agreed that the current format makes things a little more equal for everyone.
"It's a random draw, which makes it fair for everyone," Conde said. "You don't go there with a partner and with a strategy. You go there with a blindfold on."
Conde said he never had an interest in the rodeo, but as he watched his brother, Vidal Conde, ride the professional circuit and watched his father, Paul Conde, train horses, he grew to love the sport.
"I was never interested in it, and then I just fell right into it," Conde said. "My dad always had race horses and cutting horses, and ran cattle operations, and we just fell into it."
In 1989, while he was still in high school, Conde participated in his first rodeo at an event in Robstown, an event he won.
Conde rode professionally from 1997 to 1999, traveling all over the country on the rodeo circuit. He soon grew tired of the constant traveling, and returned home to start a local trucking business.
"We rodeoed a bunch, and I kind of got it out of my system. When you see the United States two or three times, you start to miss home," Conde said. "I'm raising a family, and I've got a business to run. It's not like when I was 20 or 21, and I could just leave. I've got a lot more responsibility."
That family primarily includes two twin three-year old daughters, Roslyn and Kaelyn. Conde trains horses for his own use and goes to three or four competitions a year, and he said his girls are already fascinated by roping. Many mornings, they wake him up and ask him to take them out to let them watch horses being roped.
"They love it," Conde said, of team roping. "I'm just hoping they can fall into something like that."
Over the years, Conde has seen the sport grow from something that was held anywhere there was room to one that fills major arenas and gives out thousands of dollars in prize money. As the potential for serious prize money has increased, so has the level of competition, Conde said.
"The competition is tougher. You have all these younger kids," Conde said. "I saw it grow from people spending $2,500 on a horse, which we thought was ridiculous at the time, to now people spend more than $25,000 for a horse."
Last year's event, which had more than 1,200 entries raised $5,000 in scholarship money for the livestock show, Brown said.
This year, in an effort to keep the event at a more manageable size, fees were increased and they raised $4,700 with 300 competitors.
Conde hopes to enter in the event again next year, and to see more rodeo events come to the local fairgrounds.
For Brown, the success of the past two years leads him to believe they will be celebrating the Third Annual Nueces Classic in another 12 months.
"I thought it ended up being pretty good," Brown said. "And everybody's asking us to do it again next year."