ONE AT A TIME
Ward and Hawkins have similar basic backgrounds. Andrew, 31, is the son of Terry and Terri Ward, and grew up in Edmond, Oklahoma with seven siblings, Brandon, Christin, Candace, Reagan, Meagan, Laura and Lorna. Andrew and his wife of three years, Hayli, still live on the same place where the great-eight Ward kids were raised.
“My mom and dad were both teachers, and when they started having kids, they home-schooled all of us,” remembers Andrew, who roped with brother Reagan before Buddy. “We had a classroom in our house. My dad was our math teacher, and my mom taught all the other subjects.
“My dad’s brother was the pastor of a church, and we were and still are big into church. We grew up living the dream. When we got out of school, we went outside. And we didn’t come back inside until after dark. We had a lot of friends just within our family. Our childhood was like a fairytale.”
Fred Emory Hawkins, who’s 35, grew up in rural Kansas, and was dubbed Buddy as a baby by his maternal grandfather, J.R. Ferguson.
“My grandpa started calling me Buddy when they brought me home from the hospital after an uncle back in my family tree named Buddy, who was a soldier and died in action long before I was born,” Hawkins said.
Buddy’s the oldest of Becky and Fred Hawkins’ five children, who also include Abby, Josh, Charity and Grace. Teacher-by-trade Momma Becky home-schooled her herd then, and serves as secretary at the Cowboy Church of Erath County (where Buddy and his wife, Tori, were married) in their hometown of Stephenville, Texas now.
“I was born in Sedan, Kansas, where most of my cousins, aunts and uncles still live within a 30-mile radius,” Buddy said. “We lived in a small town in a very agriculture-based rural area that was 50 miles to Wal Mart. I remember my grandparents getting indoor plumbing for the first time at one point in my childhood.
“My dad is a machinist who works in a machine shop. My granddad on my dad’s side was a wheat farmer. I worked for him and drove tractor, plowed fields and hauled hay. That was part of how I earned entry-fee money.”
It was extremely endearing when Buddy mentioned growing up in a $14,000 annual-income household, yet always feeling he had everything he needed.
“I knew other people had more money,” Buddy said. “But I didn’t need anything, so I was raised rich—especially if you look at the rest of the world. I never earned $10 an hour until I was an adult after leaving home.”
Though he refuses to be ruled by the almighty dollar, Buddy did see roping as his first-choice meal ticket.
“I really started roping for the money,” he said. “I remember three-for-$16 jackpots—as in three-steer ropings for $8 per-man entry fees—that paid $212. I thought if a guy could really get on the hot and dusty, he might be able to figure out how to make $2,000 a month. The way I saw it, we could live the high life on $2,000 a month, and that sounded pretty sweet.”
Ward and Hawkins joined forces in October of 2019, which makes 2022 their third full season together. They were two-for-two in their first Finals attempts, and this third year has already been quite charmed.
“Reagan and I circuit rodeoed for a long time to get good enough to be out here,” said Andrew, who names Kollin VonAhn as a key game changer in his roping career, and interestingly credits the two-time world champion heeler for teaching him to head at the highest level. “Buddy and I have faith at the foundation of our partnership, because we know this is all a gift from God. We give all the glory to God, because we’re thankful just to be out here rodeoing. It’s a privilege.
“We started out by saying, ‘Let’s go catch a lot of cows.’ Then we trimmed the fat from our run. We were 3 twice at The American, but we don’t think about specific times. We’re not pushing the lines of speed. We just go as fast as we can catch in all conditions.”
Andrew and Buddy aren’t the only match made in Heaven here.
“When I started roping with Andrew, I didn’t know Hayli’s sister, Tori, existed,” said Buddy, who roped at his first two NFRs with Drew Horner in 2013 and Lane Ivy in 2018. “Within a couple weeks of knowing she existed, I actually got to meet Tori. We got married 27 days from the day we met, on November 27, 2019.”
Wait. What? A 27-day courtship?
“Where we found the most common ground was in our relationship with The Father,” Buddy said. “He’s more than a religious figure to both of us, and we both have a very intimate relationship with Him. Tori and I were both in a season of life where we were following The Father in all we were doing.
“My vision of The American Dream is living on an acreage with horses and cattle, and being able to provide for my family in the team roping industry. I’m always trying to bring peace, joy and love to the people I care about. You don’t just catch someone and check the box. It’s a journey. I always want my wife’s life to be better than it was before she met me.”
These guys don’t see the family factor as added pressure.
“I don’t think being family and married to sisters changes anything,” Andrew said. “I thought Buddy and I would mesh, because we both catch a lot. But we’re not doing each other favors. Being friends and having fun doesn’t hurt a thing, but we’re roping together to make a living and feed our families.”
SEPARATE PRACTICE PENS
Another atypical aspect of Team Ward and Hawkins is that they don’t practice together.
“I get so much peace and joy from roping at the house,” Andrew said. “Sometimes I steer stop, and sometimes I just rope steers and follow them out. People make fun of me for roping in the ice and snow and mud, but God put this passion in me when I was little bitty, and I just love to rope.”
“We both value our run as a team, but Andrew and I prepare at home as individuals, because doing different things when we practice plays a really important role in what we do,” added Buddy. “My first priority when I practice is preparing to heel for Andrew in competition. I’ve been on teams where we worked a lot on our run in the practice pen trying to make that run enough times that we could make it when we were away. Andrew and I look at preparation like people who run marathons do. They don’t run 26 miles seven days a week. Instead, they work on their nutrition, strength and endurance to build themselves to a level where on race day they’re ready to go.
“I don’t want to distract Andrew by him having to do what I need him to do to get me ready for competition. So most of the time when we get together and make runs, we make zero real runs. Before we ran our first rodeo steer together at Waco in 2019, we ran two steers together. Before the 2020 NFR, we ran three steers. We only practiced together two times before the 2021 NFR.
“We talk a lot about roping and our run. But we don’t practice it a lot together, because we need different things. Andrew and I don’t expect each other to get the other guy ready to go. And when we show up at a rodeo or roping, we have zero doubt about the other’s preparation.”
THE OTHER PARTNERS
“Everything I’ve won has been on Biscuit, and we’re so thankful for him,” Andrew said. “Biscuit was 4 years old when I got him (he’s 11 now), and (Kaleb) Driggers had him to a good point before he sold him to me. Then I took my time and spent a few years getting him finished. I got a gray horse I call Henry from Stran Morris in Woodward this year. I’ve been jackpotting on him, and am excited about him, too.”
Being suited for both the tiny Thomas & Mack and the BFI at the enormous Lazy E shows as much range on their horse herd’s part as their own.
“There’s not a ton of variation between what we do as a team at the NFR or American and the BFI,” Buddy said. “That’s something special, and those two horses are a big part of our team. I also think that versatility is starting to become the norm.”
IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY
Ward and Hawkins banked $115,811 each in 10 days at NFR ’21, and are coming off of a $184,652 per-man 2021 rodeo season. Besides being back in the Top 15 on the 2022 rodeo trail, they’ve been on fire in the finance department. Each earned $65,000 when they won the Lone Star Shootout on February 27 in Stephenville. And though it doesn’t count in the world standings this year, Andrew and Buddy both had $100,000 checks to deposit into their bank accounts after topping the team roping at The American in Arlington, Texas, on March 6.
“In a field with Clay Smith, Kaleb Driggers and Cody Snow at The American, I wasn’t thinking I was just going to go whip it on them,” Andrew humbly said. “But me and Buds expected to be a good team when we started roping together. We weren’t planning on just scraping the bottom to survive. If we didn’t believe in our team, I don’t think any of these wins would come.”
But money is not the motivator that drives Team Ward and Hawkins.
“I lived in my horse trailer from June 2018 until January 2021, because it was paid for, I could afford it and it was adequate,” Buddy said. “When Tori and I got married, I was living in my horse trailer and that was a peaceful point in my life.”
Now that business is booming, Buddy’s building his family a house in Stephenville. But they’re still living in the fifth-wheel trailer that was funded by the 2020 NFR.
“My finances have changed, but my life has not changed,” Hawkins said. “I’m going to have more physical things, but my relationships haven’t changed. When Andrew and I started roping, we’d both come off of seasons of not winning much or making the NFR, but we were living a great life anyway. Our recent successes have been fun, but some of our smaller wins earlier in our partnership were actually more important, because that was the only way we could keep going.
“Finances are somewhat of a gauge as to whether or not you’re doing the right thing. If you’re waiting tables and never get any tips, you either need to change the way you’re doing it or do something different. Winning is confirmation that we’re doing the right thing at the right season, and I’m excited about it. Roping for a living is what I’ve dreamed of doing. But here’s the thing—Andrew and I will be best friends the rest of our lives. If we stop winning together, we won’t rope together anymore. And there will come a time in another season of our lives when we’ll stop roping for a living and will do something else.”
For now, this big recent roll will keep the hammers pounding on the new Hawkins home.
“Because of these wins we can keep moving forward with all of our plans,” Buddy said. “But it would have worked out without the wins, too. We just would have pushed pause until it was possible to go again.
“All the talk about our team this year is about five steers—three at the Lone Star Shootout and two at The American. I roped medium at the rodeos this winter. I went for a stretch from Dodge City in (early August) 2020 until the first round at the NFR in Arlington when I didn’t miss or leg a steer at the rodeos on X. By the numbers, that stretch was much more impressive than the one everyone’s been talking about this year.”
TIS THE SEASON
Ward and Hawkins both see life in seasons.
“I’ve just been trying to follow peace around,” Andrew said. “As long as I’m still enjoying roping, this season of life will continue and you’ll see me there. When I have no peace, I’ll hang it up. I don’t want to take something God’s given me so much passion for and run it into the ground until I hate it.”
The birth of Anne Elizabeth Hawkins on February 11, 2022 is a whole new chapter for Buddy and Tori.
“The birth of our daughter, Anne, has brought so much joy and so much perspective,” Buddy said. “It’s such an honor, because I specifically know that she is a gift from God. I’ve known I was imperfect all my life, but I’ve started having more grace with myself in this season. When it comes to parenting, God is going to take up a lot of the slack for me.”
Andrew and Buddy are both bright-side people, and there’s a resounding culture of positivity in their partnership.
“I want to have a really good life, and I try to follow what God’s telling me to do,” Ward said. “Sometimes I need to run 100 steers. Sometimes I just need to spend a day with my wife. I don’t think I should put roping ahead of everything else, because that’s an unhappy place for me to be. I want to win, and this is what I do for a living. But at the end of your life, people will remember the person you are, not what you won.”
“When I’m functioning in the spirit at the level I’m supposed to, it’s very easy to stay positive,” Buddy said. “Our humanity and our primal nature sees what’s wrong with things, so that’s no special skillset. I believe every human has one foot on earth and one foot in Heaven. Your outlook has to do with which foot you’re putting your weight on. If you broaden your perspective enough, you can bring Heaven here, and experience so much good here on earth. I have a habit of positivity.
“Ego is often why people choose the negative, because they’d rather be right than happy. You can also be positive and right, but you’re going to have to lay some ego down. It’s about how you look at things. I roped some practice steers with a buddy from Nebraska here in Texas today, and it was 35 degrees with the wind blowing. That’s not a nice day in Texas, but we told ourselves it was a beautiful day for this time of year in Nebraska, and went ahead and enjoyed ourselves.”
FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME
“Andrew and I see roping for a living as a privilege,” Buddy said. “My career goal was to rope for a living, so we’re literally living the dream. I liked what Leo the Lion (Camarillo) said when he ran the chutes for me the summer before he passed away. Leo said, ‘I love team roping. If I couldn’t heel, I would head. If I couldn’t head, I would work the chutes.’
“Roping for a living was my singular goal, and I’ve been blessed with the ability to do that. To some capacity, I’ve already accomplished what I set out to do. I would also love to leave rodeo better than I found it, because stewardship in the things we do is important and that’s how I was raised. When we borrowed a tractor, we brought it back cleaner than it was, and with the fluids topped off. It’s just so darn easy for me to choose joy in rodeo.
“Roping is bigger than a season for me. Roping is a huge part of who I am. If something isn’t good enough to be part of my identity, then I shouldn’t participate in it at all. Most guys who rodeo could make more money doing something else. If I was in this for the money, I would have already gotten out.”
Buddy looks for Team Ward and Hawkins to hit an even higher level.
“The spotlight has never freaked us out or made us feel entitled,” he said. “We hold ourselves to a very high standard, and we believe that’s why we’ve been successful. We’re also choosing peace and joy for our future. We’re most concerned about living life at a very high level, because we realize that we’re not being paid enough to be sad. I can’t unmiss a cow, so that does not need to be a source of stress. Stress is the act of resisting the joy that is all around you. And that’s a direct quote from the book of Buddy.” TRJ