Smith wins PCA

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 3, 2004

Former Troy State rodeo athlete James "Smitty" Smith endured a stressful year, but he finished it with a title.

Smith led most of the year in money earnings, but the bareback rider from Cullman broke his hand with three months remaining in the season. He recovered, though, and managed to put together a good-enough performance in the Professional Cowboys Association finals to win the PCA bareback riding championship.

"It feels good," Smith said from Jackson, where he is practicing to compete in the Dixie Riders competition Feb. 12-18. "It's something you work for all year, as long as your body will let you."

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Smith was one of the founding members of the Troy State rodeo team's inaugural season a year ago, but because of family considerations, he had to drop out of the TSU team after the first semester.

Championships are a part of his life, though. Before joining the Troy State rodeo team, Smith won the PCA bareback title in 2001. He was the PCA Rookie of the Year in 2000, the year after he won the state championship in high school rodeo in his first year of competition.

Now, he is the champion again in PCA.

The process of becoming a champion is long and grueling. Competitors partake in rodeos all year, and the money they earn is counted towards a yearly total, similar to the points system in NASCAR.

However, unlike racecar drivers and most professional athletes, rodeo riders have to place in order to earn money.

"At the nationals, there were 16 riders in bareback competition, and they only paid the top four each day [all 16 riders competed in each of the four days of competition]," Smith said. "At other rodeos, there may be 10 riders and they will pay only the top two or three."

Coming into the finals, Smith trailed overall leader Lance Etheridge by more than $2,000 in the standings. Etheridge earned 9,236.52 heading into the finals at Biloxi, and Smith had earned 7,183.57 by that point in the season.

In the four-day competition, Smith made up the difference and finished the year with $9,914.97 to finish barely ahead of Etheridge, who totaled $9,700.60 for the year.

"I ended up winning by $214, and that's not much," Smith said.

Smith said he wanted to eventually move to the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association circuit. Some of the payouts on those rodeos can be as high as $60,000.

"I could ride in one of those events and make more than I make in a whole year now," Smith said.

But Smith is trying to be patient. He said he does not want to get in over his head too quickly.

"I've never been one who wanted to put the cart in front of the horse," Smith said. "I'll just wait for the right time to move up."