There doesn’t seem to be much rhyme or reason for why girl champs are such a rarity in the team roping at the National High School Finals Rodeo, and yet, only three have been recorded in its history, which lists the sport’s first champions in 1972. Fourteen years later, Brenda Youtsey (now Reay) from Oregon would be the first girl in history to claim the title. Another 20 years would pass before Nevada’s Haylee Turlee would follow suit and, again, 14 more years until Quincy Sullivan, from New Mexico, joined her predecessors.
And though the reasons for these significant time gaps aren’t terribly obvious, what is known is that these three women went to the Finals to win.
“That was my goal all along,” Brenda Reay said. “I knew that there had never been a girl.”
Since her senior year coup, Reay has raised two sons—Bryan, a professional team roper, and Trey, a college football athlete—with her husband, Mike. She’s spent her own professional years as a health teacher, and remembers getting the year-end print edition of the NHSRA records that dated back to the first Finals in 1949 and looking over them with her dad.
“I’m telling you, I knew that there had not been a girl since the ’40s. I knew it.”
It inspired her mission to be the first.
Haylee Turley, who hailed from Nevada as a high school senior and is now a third-grade teacher in Texas, where she’s raising her son, set her eyes on the prize at the beginning of her final high school rodeo season, when she solidified her partnership with heeler Quinn Mori.
“We had known each other,” Turley said of Mori. “We high school rodeoed for four years together, so we definitely competed against each other, when we had different partners. Even at jackpots, we roped together before we were partners in high school. I’ll never forget, it was state finals my junior year and it was like, ‘Hey, we need to talk about next year.’
“It was definitely an early decision and we kind of approached each other and I was like, ‘I really need this to be a done deal.’ I knew that’s who I wanted to rope with. If I was going to put myself at the point of winning, that’s who I needed to be partnered with.”
For New Mexico’s Quincy Sullivan, who claimed her championship title as a sophomore and is now in the midst of her junior year, the goal has been to win each time she enters the arena since she started competing as a kid, though the opportunity to team rope at “Nationals” this year came as a bit of a surprise when New Mexico’s top teams and partners forfeited their spots.
“It was really weird. We hadn’t had a high school rodeo since September,” Sullivan explained of the rodeo season that, like so many other aspects of everyday life, has suffered the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. “So, we were really like the top four in each event. We were like a week away from leaving and they were like, ‘Oh, you need to head for him.’”
“Him” is Luiz Mendiaz, and the pair, who would now be competing for a national championship as partners, had never roped together. Sullivan, who was already slated to compete in the breakaway roping and the pole bending, took it in stride.
“It really didn’t matter. We were already going up there, just needed to bring another horse,” she said.
Sullivan and Mendiaz found a day to run a few steers together and called it good. They were ready.
In addition to a winning mindset, each of these women were raised to be multi-talented athletes.
Reportedly, Sullivan won two saddles two weeks after she got her first horse. She was 4. She’s the daughter of team and calf roper Russel and breakaway roper and barrel racer Shacey, and since that time, she’s won a bevy of checks, prizes and titles across multiple events. She competed in the Junior High School Finals Rodeo all three years, and was New Mexico’s Rookie of the Year in 2016 in junior rodeo. She took the title again competing at the high school level in 2019, and competed in Las Vegas at the Junior World Finals Rodeo twice, before bringing home her championship team roping title from her second NHSFR.
When asked who inspires her drive, Sullivan zeroes in on home.
“I look up to my dad because he’s taught me everything I know.”
Turley was similarly raised in rodeo.
“Both my parents college rodeoed,” she said. “Roping’s always been in our family. My parents roped. My dad still ropes to this day.”
Turley maintains a deep love for team roping today, but as a high school and Texas college athlete, she competed across the board.
“We won State and, in fact, the same year, I won the All-Around. I won the State in the goat-tying and the breakaway and the team roping. I don’t remember what I ended up going in, but I want to say 3 or 4 in the barrel racing. I had a lot of events. I was spread thin, but I ended up winning the All-Around at the High School Nationals that year. It was a wonderful [way] to start college, that’s for sure.
“I even cut,” Turley continued. “So, I was in all six events all year long. It was always go, go, go. I was in the short-round in the goat tying and the team roping. So, getting the opportunity to place, it put me at a better advantage to win the All-Around.”
For Reay, who, for context, was competing before the NJHSRA became such a prolific entity and even before team roping’s classification system existed, roping and riding wherever you could and with whomever you could was simply par for the course.
“We went to a lot of amateur rodeos growing up, because there wasn’t always a lot of junior rodeos going around,” Reay explained. “We went to a lot of jackpot team ropings, and you went to horse shows. There wasn’t a jackpot like there is now every week or junior rodeos. I didn’t really junior rodeo until I was about 12 years old because I competed against adults. We went to amateur rodeo in California.
“We would also go to all the shows like Red Bluff and we also did some cow cutting and some horse showing because that’s what you did with your young horses. There was no 4D barrel racing. You take them to horse shows all winter long. I guess I think that was also an advantage. Because when you go from competing with adults and how they act, to competing with kids, it’s no big deal.”
Reay’s diverse background helped her win the Oregon State All-Around title and, when her go-to partner—Skeeter Duby—busted his knee and couldn’t compete, it also helped Reay get to work with replacement partner Brett Kamm, even when both of their good horses got injured before the finals. So did her commitment to being the best.
“At 17 years old,” Reay recalled, “I’m just here to win … at least I was. I was very focused on what I wanted to do. And, I always wrote down all the steers. I always knew what was going on with the start. I always felt like that’s how you beat kids, was by scoring. And I always had nice horses to ride and good partners.
“Some of my summers, I used to go down with Reg and Marilynn Camarillo. My dad and I would ride barrel horses and I would sit and I would watch Dee Pickett and all those guys, and I remember hearing them. The one thing that stood out to me was the scoring. I used to just sit there and watch them practice and learn from them just by watching those guys. I remember getting up early and watching them with their horses and the horsemanship and I just soaked it all in, because it really mattered to me.”
Reay, who was barely a teenager on those summer visits, understood that the NFR numbers hanging on the wall at the Camarillos meant these people knew what was going on. It translated into year-round, daily skill developments in the form of winter dummy competitions at home and even roping the dummy in high school health class.
“When you’re a competitor, you want to be the best you can be. I was always told, ‘You hang out with winners and watch what they do, and you can learn from everybody.’ I guess I bought into that.”
Like a Girl
Let’s call a spade a spade: There’s probably been handy girl ropers since the creation of the rope, but there’s inarguably more room for their talents to be showcased, as evidenced by the PRCA’s inclusion of breakaway roping as a professional rodeo sport just this year … in 2020.
At 16 years old, Sullivan doesn’t yet get the benefit of perspective that her predecessors do when they look back at their wins, but that doesn’t mean the difference between hers and theirs isn’t already notable.
“They all congratulated me,” Sullivan said of the boys she competed against. “It didn’t really seem like they were off. A bunch of the boys from New Mexico were really proud of me. So, I thought it was a good experience. They were all very supportive.”
The experience is a positive and welcome sign of change. For Turley and Reay, the boys weren’t quite so willing to share their comradery.
“I remember hearing on the way back, and even after, and seeing people say, ‘You got beat by a girl! You got beat by a girl,’” Reay said.
For Turley, the animosity is even printed in color.
“After the short-round,” she started, “in fact I’ve got the picture somewhere. It’s never been hung up because it looks like a prison photo. There’s not one person smiling. You know, when they get the top 10 or 15 teams. There’s not one person smiling. The boys weren’t very happy. I’m not going to lie to you. They weren’t.”
Thankfully, what the boys thought didn’t matter much to Turley or Reay, who had more important matters on their minds.
“I just never felt that way. I only heard it afterwards. I never really felt it. I was just there to compete,” Reay said. “We went there to win. And I never ever felt like, because I was a girl, I was at a disadvantage. But I was very much raised that way. And I was just like, ‘Brenda, you can do anything you put your heart to.’ My dad was very much goal oriented, very much. I never thought I was any different than the boys.”
Girl, Grown Up
For these ladies, the goals don’t quit just because they won their championship buckles, though each will attest that winning the team roping championship is one of their most remarkable accomplishments to date.
For Reay, who was literally able to check the accomplishment off on her sophomore year goal sheet, the win gave her an opportunity to really evaluate what she wanted next.
“I remember thinking, ‘What do I want to do now? Do I really want to just be known as a really good cowgirl or what do I want to do?’
“And, I love my sports,” posited Reay, who also competed in volleyball, basketball and track. “So that’s when I decided I wanted to be a teacher and coach, also, and really put a lot of energy in that because, you know, team roping doesn’t necessarily pay the bills, right? Especially as a girl. It’s not like I turned out my horses. It’s just that I [changed] my direction. Like, ‘Hey, I’m a big girl now.’ And, I really wanted to make a difference in kids’ lives. It really mattered to me.”
Turley also entered into the education field and, in recent years, has hit the pause button on roping while she focuses on providing for her coming-of-age son.
“A few years back, I ended up selling a good horse and bought a house. My son is 12 and he’s so into sports. It was one of those things where I really couldn’t juggle both. I had a couple project horses after my good one had been put down, and definitely still went to a couple World Series ropings. This will be our third Christmas in this house, so, it’s been a couple years. But we still pick up ropes all the time and are still in that environment. And, once he’s grown up, that’s going to be the first thing I go and buy is another horse!”
As for Sullivan’s plans, she’s been quoted saying them before and she’ll tell you again:
“I’m going to be the first girl to win the NFR.”
Go Girl, Go
“I’m always about seeing some girls kick butt,” Turley said. “Especially in team roping.”
We all are. Reay, 52, and Turley, 32, are still remembered and introduced in each of their circles as the first women to win the team roping at the NHSFR. People will tell them exactly where they were when they heard the news. When they went to college, girls told them their win was the coolest thing they’d ever seen. Ropey kids want pictures with them.
It mattered to people, which is why, when Sullivan was mistakenly announced as the very first girl champ, a firestorm of passionate friends and fans were quick to remedy the miscommunication on social media.
In fact, it didn’t only happen after Sullivan’s win. The same mistake occurred when Turley won in 2006 and, since social media was only then in its infancy, an article went to print in Spin to Win Rodeo before anyone knew any better.
It puts each of the women in a touch awkward position, but more than anything, they’re proud of their success, they’re proud of each other for getting it done and they’re looking forward to seeing it happen again soon.
“I wish kids would focus a little bit more on their goals, because I really think they could reach more,” Reay offered, who was named Idaho’s Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year in 2017.
In the meantime, keep an eye on Sullivan as she rounds out her high school career and pursues a path to the pros. We’re also eagerly awaiting Turley’s return to the team roping arena when her supermom role allows it. And, as for Reay, who just last year was crowned the Idaho Girls Rodeo Association All-Around Champ, we wish her the best of luck in reaching her latest goal: Ribbon roping in the Senior Pros.
“I think that sounds like a lot of fun. I think the Senior Pros sound like a really fun thing.”
And, to the girls looking at team roping in future National High School Finals Rodeos, we’ll make you a deal: If you promise to not make us wait another 15 years, we promise to get the story straight when you join this Champion Girl Gang.