Hannah Harwager, a member of the Neb. High School Rodeo Association, displays her high school diploma after her valedictorian speech at Stapleton High School. Photo courtesy of the family

Hastings, Neb. (May 23, 2016) – Young people are walking across stages, from the halls of high schools to college campuses, and in the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association, eight cowboys and cowgirls finished their high school careers at the top of their class.

Morgan Eggleston, Arnold, Neb., Hannah Harwager, Stapleton, Neb., Jada Jensen, Bingham, Neb., J.W. Schroder, Taylor, Neb., and Cade Svoboda, Ord, Neb., all finished as valedictorian of their respective classes. Paige Cross, Harrisburg, Neb., was salutatorian, and Jayde Atkins and Hannah Smith, both of Broken Bow, each had perfect 4.0 grade point averages. Broken Bow High School does not recognize valedictorians or salutatorians.

Morgan Eggleston, valedictorian for the 2016 Arnold High School class, participated in volleyball, basketball, One-Act Play, the HEROES mentor program, 4-H, and was a member of the National Honor Society while in high school. The eighteen year old cowgirl also competed in reined cowhorse and cutting, qualifying for the state high school finals last year and this year.

This fall, she will attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and begin her pre-veterinary medicine degree. She plans on transferring to Iowa State University or Kansas State University to get her doctorate and specialize in equine acupuncture and chiropractic. She is the daughter of Tony and Krista Eggleston.

Hannah Harwager, valedictorian of the Stapleton High School class of 2016, has been awarded an R-HOP Scholarship (Rural Health Opportunities Program), a scholarship given by the University of Nebraska Medical Center to encourage rural residents to pursue health care careers. The recipient must have a 24 ACT score or higher, a high grade point average, and school and community involvement. Harwager’s schooling at Chadron (Neb.) State College is paid for and she is guaranteed at spot at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. During her high school career, Hawager was involved in National Honor Society, FBLA, Quiz Bowl, Bronco Buddies, the ESU’s Special Rodeo and was prom queen. She also played varsity volleyball and basketball for three years.

She competed in the breakaway roping, goat tying and pole bending in high school rodeo and qualified for the state finals and the National High School Finals Rodeo last year. She is the daughter of Jess and Heather Harwager.

Jada Jensen, of Bingham, gave her valedictorian speech at Hyannis High School on May 7. During her high school career at Hyannis, she played volleyball and basketball for two years, was treasurer and vice-president of Student Council, was an office holder in FFA all four years, and was on the Quiz Bowl and the Academic Decathlon teams. She will attend Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas this fall and major on a pre-pharmacy track with the goal of getting into pharmacy school in two years.

While in high school, Jensen competed in all the girls’ events, but her senior year narrowed it down to the breakaway roping, team roping, barrel racing and cowhorse. She won the 2016 Nebraska High School Rodeo Reserve Champion Cowhorse title , and went to the National High School Finals Rodeo in cowhorse in 2015. She is the daughter of J.C. and Jana Jensen.

J.W. Schroder was the valedictorian at Loup County High School in Taylor. In school, he was involved in football, wrestling, track, was president of the Student Council, and a member of the speech team, FFA and the National Honor Society. In his senior year, he qualified for state wrestling.

This fall, he will attend Mid-Plains Community College in North Platte where he will major in agricultural banking. He plans on transferring to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in two years and getting his bachelor’s degree there.

In rodeo, he competes in the saddle bronc riding and qualified for state finals in 2015. He is the son of John and Belinda Schroder.

Cade Svoboda, Ord, was the valedictorian of the 2016 Ord High School graduating class. While in high school, he played football, wrestled (qualifying for state three times and finishing second in his weight division in 2015 and fourth in 2016), ran track, and was a member of the FFA, Science Olympiad, and Swing Singers. He showed cattle in 4-H and in high school rodeo, rides barebacks, steer wrestles and team ropes. He has qualified for state high school finals three times and for the National High School Finals twice. He is the son of Von and Angie Svoboda.

This fall, he will walk on to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s wrestling program and major in food science technology.

Jayde Atkins, Broken Bow, graduated from high school with a 4.0 grade point average. The cowgirl played basketball and ran track in high school, played in the band, and was a member of the FFA, Arts Club, and National Honor Society. She did community service and is on her school’s Academic Wall of Fame. In high school rodeo, she competes in the barrel racing, cow horse, pole bending, breakaway roping, goat tying, and team roping. She has qualified for state finals the past three years and has also qualified for Nationals the past three years.

This fall, Atkins will attend Chadron (Neb.) State College and major in ag business. She is the daughter of J.B. and Sonya Atkins.

Hannah Smith also graduated from Broken Bow High School with a 4.0 grade point average. Smith was involved in band, speech, One-Acts, the Tri-M Music Honor Society, the National Honor Society, and was president of the FFA and secretary of the speech team. In rodeo, she competes in the pole bending and barrel racing.

This fall, Smith will attend Chadron State College and major in elementary education. She is the daughter of R.P. and Beth Smith.

Paige Cross, Harrisburg, Neb., graduated as salutatorian of Banner County High School. In high school, she competed in volleyball and basketball and was a member of the FFA, 4-H, Student Council, Youth Engage in Leadership, and Circle of Friends. She is a two-time rodeo queen for the Kimball PRCA Rodeo, and competes in barrel racing and pole bending.

This fall, she will attend Chadron State College and major in elementary education. She is the daughter of James and Lisa Cross.

Involvement in high school rodeo may be a contributing factor to a youth’s success in school, and many of these top students attest to it. Cross, salutatorian at Banner Co. High School, said, “Rodeo teaches commitment and dedication which is something you really need in high school. You have to get up and feed your horses every morning, you have to practice and keep them in shape, and it gives you motivation to do better. It teaches you to be responsible, and that carries over to your schoolwork and your other extracurricular activities.”

Several of these students, along with about 120 other contestants, will compete at this year’s Nebraska State High School Finals Rodeo, which will be held at the Adams Co. Fairgrounds in Hastings June 16-18 The first go-round is June 16 at 10 am and 6 pm, the second round is June 17 at 10 and 6 pm, and the finals round is at 1 pm on June 18. The top four winners in each of twelve events qualify for the National High School Finals in Gillette, Wyo. July 17-23. For more information, visit AdamsCountyFairgrounds.com or hsrodeo-nebraska.com, or call 402-462-3247.

– Adams County Ag Society