Their paths were different, but they both led to the same destination: a state championship.
Mary Owens, a rising sophomore at Darlington and Brandon Howerton, a recent Model High grad, both won state championships this month during the 2003 Georgia High School Rodeo Association finals.
Owens won the state championship in barrel racing and Howerton was a state champion bareback rider.
With their wins, both Owens and Howerton qualified for the National High School Rodeo Finals in Farmington, N.M., in July.
“I just wanted to go to nationals and you have to be in the top four to go,” Owens said. “And I’m going as No. 1.”
Owens was also named Rookie of the Year for finishing fourth in all-around cowgirl points.
Rookie of the Year is based on cumulative points from all five events in the competition.
Owens participated in only three of the five events — barrel racing, pole bending and breakaway roping — but still had the highest score.
“It was one of the tougher years because there were a lot of us as freshmen,” Owens, 14, said. “Some of the other girls did five events and I only did three.”
Owens also finished sixth in the state in breakaway roping and pole bending and fourth in the state in cutting.
Owens started riding horses four years ago, went to a few rodeos and liked what she saw, she said. She competed in 25-30 rodeos during the 2002-2003 season, she said.
Owens will also serve as the student vice president of the Georgia High School Rodeo Association next year.
Howerton, 18, has been competing in bareback riding for three years, beginning in ninth grade. He played other sports early in his career, but decided to stick with the rodeo life.
“I was originally in bullriding then I ran into a guy named Rodney Hodges in Rockmart who thought I would like bareback better,” he said. “That’s how I got started.
“I tried bullriding, but I wanted to stay good at one thing and thought I would just focus on bareback.”
His focus paid off and his state championship earned him a shot at nationals.
“It’s really exciting,” Howerton said. “You get to meet some professional bareback riders and meet people from all over the country and Australia and Canada.”
In addition to getting a trip to nationals, Owens and Howerton earned spots on the Wrangler All-Star Team.
The Georgia High School Rodeo Association is a statewide association of high school students who participate in rodeos throughout the state.
The season begins on Labor Day and ends with the state finals in Perry in early June