Logan Whitley was named the 2008 Top Academic Cowboy following his performance at the National High School Rodeo finals held July 20 to July 26 in Farmington, N.M. The award and $3,000 scholarship, sponsored by Wrangler, is presented to only one young man and one young woman in the nation.
Whitley plans to use his scholarship when he enrolls at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford, Okla., this fall where he will compete on the university's rodeo team and pursue a degree in pharmacy.
In addition to earning the NHSRA's top academic award, Whitley finished fifth in the nation in calf roping. He earned the right to compete at the national finals after winning the calf roping championship at the Missouri State High School Finals Rodeo earlier this summer.
At the week-long national finals, Whitley competed in two rounds of six rodeos before placing in the top 20 to advance to the finals, which were held Saturday, July 26. Whitley finished fourth in the final round to claim his final fifth place finish. For his efforts, Whitley won buckles for being among the top four qualifiers in the final round and for finishing in the Top 10 at the National High School Rodeo.
Competing at the national finals was a new experience for Whitley. He said he had made it a goal of his for the past three years but was never able to finish in the top four at the Missouri State High Rodeo Finals before this year.
"So to win it this year was pretty cool," said Whitley. "The National Finals Rodeo was the biggest thing I've ever done. It was definitely exciting."
When asked about being nervous, Whitley said nerves were only an issue during his first outing in the arena.
"After I got that first run out of the way, I wasn't very nervous at all," said Whitley. "I guess it was kind of a God thing, and I felt like I was supposed to be there."
Making it to the national finals is no easy task. Like other sports, rodeo requires countless hours of training and hundreds of miles of travelling to compete at rodeos across the state and region.
"Most people don't understand the work that goes into it," said Whitley. "They think cowboys and yee haw. But you really have to work at it and it requires technique.
"In my case, I've never been naturally talented at it, but God has blessed me with a persevering attitude," said Whitley. "It was something I wanted to do, and it is by far the biggest success I've ever had."
Whitley said his training schedule involves daily practice sessions, which last an average of at least two hours. He also attends 25 or more rodeos a year. Whitley competes in calf roping and team roping events.
"This is a passion for me,' said Whitley. "I have other interests but it's my main focus as far as sports go and it's by far my biggest interest."
Placing fifth in the nation and finishing first in the state in calf roping is an honor Whitley shares with a silent partner - his quarter horse, Musket.
"One thing I don't think people understand is how important your horse is, especially in roping," said Whitley. "We raised the horse I have now and I trained him. He's just 5 and he's already competed at the national finals."
When Whitley heads off to college on Aug. 15, he'll be taking Musket and his team roping horse, Pickett, with him.
"I couldn't do what I do without them," said Whitley,
The young cowboy is also quick to give credit for his success to his parents, Debbie and Blake Whitley, his brother, Garrett, and his coach, Jason Cook.
"Actually, a lot of the credit goes to God," said Whitley. "He blessed me with parents who are willing to haul me to rodeos and spend that kind of gas money and that kind of time.
"He's also blessed me with a lot of other people who've helped me along the way," added Whitley. "From my brother, Garrett, to Jason Cook, who's like a coach to me in a lot of ways. Jason and I work out a lot and he has really helped me with my roping and horsemanship. And my brother Garrett is who got me started and he still helps me a lot."
Whitley also receives support from three local business sponsors that include Les Jacobs Ford, Freedom Bank and Whitley Pharmacy.
"In Missouri High School Rodeo you're required to have sponsors, and without them, none of this would be possible," said Whitley.