We tend to rave about winter jackpots in Arizona, but one of the marquee team ropings in all of America happens annually in sunny north Florida.
Now in its 16th year, the National Team Roping League (NTRL) Finals is coming off a 2020 in which it drew some 2,500 teams and paid out a half-million dollars in cash, plus well over $100,000 in prizes. A shoot-out guarantees $14,000 for first place but usually pays closer to $20,000, plus saddles, buckles and jackets. It’s the WSTR Finale of the Atlantic seaboard; the BFI Week of the Southeast.
Here’s the thing—anybody in the country can show up and rope at the NTRL Finals Jan. 27-31, 2021. Yes, there are NTRL qualifiers that award shoot-outs to the finals. However, when you pull up in Jacksonville and unload your horses, you automatically get three shoot-outs to use in any roping. Plus, only one person needs to have a shoot-out, so you can pick up anybody else. And it gets better. Jacksonville allows you to draw into any roping all week—even the shoot-outs. As long as you have a Global card, you’re in.
“The entry fees are a little less than other big ropings, so a guy can go enter up and enjoy the whole week rather than worrying about spending too much,” says Jeff Hartfield. “The payouts are great. But the warmth the ropers have with each other and the JX2 staff sets it apart from anything else that happens in this country.”
Hartfield would know. The Indiana native has banked checks—and a few pickups—at nearly every big roping in the country.
“The Jacksonville roping has always had a culture of entertainment,” he adds. “Between the golf tournament, the cookouts and going to dinner together, there’s always 10 things happening at once around there. It’s very dynamic, socially, and you feel so much camaraderie.”
Producer John Johnson calls it “pageantry.” After all, college football is everything in the South, and that tailgating spirit is alive and well in Jacksonville. The event is a melting pot of good-time ropers from Heel-O-Matic, Resistol, Cactus and Classic guys arriving from Texas to the handfuls of headers and heelers on their annual vacation from New York, and from the Oklahoma contingent who flies in and borrows horses to the Cuban-Americans from around Miami who live to rope.
“You can walk through the RV park and eat a whole hog the Cubans are cooking, while the Cajuns are making boudin,” says Florida rancher Tish Luke. “And everybody invites you to come in and eat.”
Johnson hangs his hat on that Southern hospitality. He’s also spent a quarter-century fine-tuning professionalism and consistency at his ropings.
“We try to treat everybody first class,” he says. “We want you to come and have a good time and enjoy yourselves.”
Luke, a 4 header who never misses Jacksonville—or any other major roping in America—says Johnson makes the event unique.
“There were 2,500 teams last year,” she says. “Johnny Johnson probably knows the names of 98% of those ropers. And he honestly might know half their wives’ names and a quarter of their kids’ names.”
Johnson and another producer devised the NTRL before there was a World Series because they wanted ropers east of the Mississippi to have easier access to a big-time event that didn’t require a cross-country drive and four figures in entry fees. In 2021, for the first time, the Jacksonville Equestrian Center boasts an additional arena, so now the Finals can run three arenas (one indoor, one covered and one outdoor) simultaneously, as weather allows. That should allow everyone plenty of time to hit favorite eateries like Chubby’s Wings.
The annual four-man golf tournament held in Jacksonville the day before the Finals is wildly popular and open to the world. Johnson’s own team has been known to win it, which has become a bit of a running joke. But no one minds because he pays for everything! Johnson feeds everyone breakfast, sponsors the golf, then provides lunch before everybody heads back to the arena for a little jackpot and a big dinner for sponsor representatives, producers and ropers.
“That’s so people can put names with faces and get to know who buys products, and the reps can see who the producers are and how special this place is,” Johnson says. “Cookouts, concerts and bonfires—it’s just who we are.”
Of course, a live band is common at this roping. Johnson’s jackpots near Nashville have attracted songwriters like the late Daryl Singletary, Shane Minor, Bryce Long, Chris Janson and John Pardi. So the only way to know who might show up and play for team ropers is to show up yourself and cross this one off the list.
NEED TO KNOW:
Fees run $120 for preliminaries and $220 for shoot-outs, while specialty roping prices vary.
In 2021, in addition to the shoot-outs and preliminaries, expect a WPRA-approved team roping and breakaway, a century roping and a “top gun” roping (both age restricted), plus the popular Ladies and Legends (requiring a female and an over-40 partner).
This year, JX2 will add a Hometown Hero roping for military and first responders, that will pay back 100% with a full prizeline from corporate sponsors.
Follow JX2 and NTRL Team Roping on Facebook or visit jx2events.com.