Hayden Sanders is seated at the top of the WCRA Open Leaderboard between reigning World Champion Junior Nogueira and 2021 NFR average champion Buddy Hawkins.
Hayden Sanders is a 17-year-old high school senior from Ovalo, Texas.
Growing up, Sanders wasn’t even interested in team roping, though his father was involved in the sport. As the young gun tells it, one day, he picked up the rope and “it just clicked.” Now, he’s an 8 heeler with an impressive resume that includes winning two trucks and rounds at the IFYR, Junior NFR Open, Junior BFI and more.
“Around September 2020, I won my first pickup,” Sanders said. “Then, in April 2021, I won my second pickup. My most memorable win was my sophomore year at State [High School Finals.] We came from the bottom and reached the top, so it felt good.”
Sanders, who’s currently homeschooling and plans to attend college in Texas, first heard of the WCRA at the International Finals Youth Rodeo in Shawnee, Oklahoma.
“I had a lady talk to me up there about how I needed to start doing it,” Sanders said. “She said it’s the next big thing, so we just started nominating for it. We thought it was a good idea.”
Sanders uses the Virtual Rodeo Qualifier (VRQ) to nominate his rodeo efforts to earn points toward his WCRA leaderboard positions.
“I nominate every US roping I go to, and I nominate the high school rodeos for the youth,” he said.
As a result, Sanders ranks at No. 2 on the FW22 Segment Leaderboard with 1751 points, just behind Nogueira at No. 1 with 8278.285 points, and ahead of No. 3 Hawkins with 1688 points, putting him amidst the top 24 athletes in each division who qualify for the $360,000 Cowtown Christmas Championship Rodeo, set for Dec. 15–18 at the Cowtown Coliseum in Fort Worth, Texas.
“This will be the first WCRA Major event I’m roping at,” Sanders said. “I’m glad I’m coming in sitting high. I think it’ll be a great experience competing against all the big guys up there.”
Sanders is also No. 14 on the DY23 Segment Leaderboard with 395.25 points and is on track to qualify for the World Championship Junior Rodeo, set for July 25–29, 2023, at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma. There, the top 16 athletes in each discipline on the leaderboard as of June 25 will earn a qualification with no entry fees to the $200,000 event.
“I’m definitely excited” Sanders said. “I think it’ll be a cool experience.”