story by Michele Toberer Raring to go and ready for rodeo, Gabe Davidson cannot wait to hit the reset button on his rodeo career. The […]
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Meet the Member Willis Brothers
story by Michele Toberer
It’s not too surprising that third generation cowboys, Hazen and Holden Willis are as enthralled with the rodeo world as the two generations of family proceeding them. They are born from the regal NFR competitor blood passed from their grandfather, Junior Lewis, a National Finals Rodeo calf roping qualifier in 1969 and 1971; as well as their aunt, Mardee Hollenbeck, who was a 1994 WNFR barrel racing competitor. Hazen and Holden’s parents, Lisa and Aaron Willis, were both raised in the same rodeoing ways that they are now raising them and their younger sister, Shantell. The Kansas High School Rodeo Association is like home for the family, with both Lisa and Aaron competing in the association during their high school years, Lisa as a barrel racer and breakaway roper, and Aaron as a bulldogger and team roper. The family couldn’t be prouder of their sons competing in the junior high division of the KHSRA, and the fact that Hazen is currently leading the chute dogging standings, while Holden is leading the boy’s breakaway roping standings at this point in the season.
Fourteen-year-old Hazen attends Pretty Prairie Middle School as an 8th grader and is very active in the school’s athletic program as a basketball and football player. Hazen also competes on the school’s academic quiz bowl each year. He has competed in rodeo events since he was 5 years old, and although he’s tried several events, chute dogging is what he is focusing his efforts on this season. He appreciates the help of his dad, and their family friend, Doug Janke, when it comes to practicing throwing steers. “I really like competing in the KJHSRA and like being able to travel everywhere for the rodeos. Chute dogging is definitely my favorite event. It’s pretty cool that my family has been involved in the association for so long, so it makes it nice to know so many people.”
Holden is a 7th grader at Pretty Prairie Middle School where he enjoys his social studies and science classes. He plays basketball on the same team as Hazen and enjoys attending the same school as him. As a 6th grader in the KJHSRA, Holden qualified for the national junior high finals rodeo in Huron, South Dakota in breakaway roping. In his second season with the KJHSRA, he is competing in breakaway roping, team roping, ribbon roping, and goat tying. He heels for Koy Smith on his 15-year-old gelding named Bay, and also rides the bay gelding (named for his color) in goat tying. In his favorite event, breakaway roping, Holden rides a 17-year-old sorrel gelding named Gus. He also rides Gus in ribbon roping with his partner, Ava Chad. “I’ve been riding Gus for about 5 years and really like riding him. My cousin, Brandi Hollenbeck, rode him at the college national finals rodeo and qualified for the short-go in breakaway roping on him a few years ago.”
Hazen and Holden’s mom currently works at a mental health facility, and their dad makes a living as an electrician. Other than work and school, rodeo takes up most of the Willis family’s remaining time. Holden explained, “We practice about three to four days each week and go to rodeos almost every weekend.” Both boys appreciate family friends like Jeff Smyth who lets them come practice at his arena on calves and steers every week to be ready for their competitions. They both love competing in the KJHSRA and spending time with all of their friends at the rodeos.
For the future, Hazen and Holden both envision college rodeo as a part of their plans as they continue through the familiar rodeo ranks of their family’s history. “It’s pretty cool growing up being surrounded by rodeo and knowing how rodeo has been such a big part of our family’s background.”