SMITHVILLE, Mo. — Early trips to the rodeo arena ended in disappointment and tears. There were a lot of tears.
Koltin Hevalow never gave up on the sport. Now a confident 14-year-old, he can think back to the humble beginnings and perseverance in riding. He’s now won three world titles, the most recent a National High School Rodeo Association (NHSRA) Junior High Division crown in bull riding last month.
The son of parents ingrained in the rodeo life, Hevalow struggled to find his grip on the sport early but never let go of his dreams.
“It was in my blood. I knew that,” Hevalow said. “Getting the light bulb to click is what it took at the beginning. Once it clicked, it just took off.”
Hevalow worked his way up to world champion bull rider.
Starting out in mutton busting at just 4 years old, he learned tough lessons. Kevin Hevalow, his father, spent 11 years riding bulls and saddle broncs. His mother Jenn grew up in a rodeo family.
The sport seemed a natural fit for Koltin, even if the anticipation of rodeo trips outweighed the early enjoyment of getting on the sheep. Two years after getting his start, Hevalow won his first world title in the 2009 Youth Bull Riders (YBR) World Finals, taking home the mutton busting crown.
In 2012, Hevalow won the 2012 YBR World Final in calf riding — a testament to his quick development.
“First couple of years of it were pretty rough,” he said. “Got on, got on — couldn’t even get past the gate unless we were lucky. Then finally, it clicked and then it was unstoppable. World championship, champion buckles all around. Started growing up and getting on calves and started taking off from there, riding almost everything I got on and winning buckles and making a lot more memories.”
Hevalow’s parents helped foster his love for the sport.
The family ranch on Highway 92 between Platte City and Smithville includes a barn and a show arena. The rodeo season rarely stops for their oldest son, and they supply him with the tools needed to pursue a rugged sport.
“We’ve always had stock — sheep, calves and bulls — for him to practice on and maintain where he needs to be,” Jenn Hevalow said.
In 2015-16, Koltin Hevalow jumped in the Missouri’s NHSRA Junior High Division.
Created in 2004, the NHSRA Junior High Division was established to serve as a feeder system into the high school ranks of the association. All 48 states and Canadian provinces that belong to the NHSRA also have a junior high division with more than 2,500 members now competing.
Junior High Division students compete in a variety of events, including barrel racing, pole bending, goat tying, breakaway roping, tie-down roping, chute dogging, team roping, ribbon roping, and junior bull riding, bareback steer riding and saddle bronc steer riding.
Hevalow won last year’s Missouri state championship in junior bull riding, despite starting late in the competition — 10 fall and 10 spring rodeos. The accumulation of points throughout the season plus a finals determines the winners in each category.
The NHSRA Junior High Division offered a second chance each year at a world title for Hevalow.
“I wanted to do it so I could prove to myself that I’m the best in the world,” Hevalow said. “(Last year) was kind of a learning experience. I knew what I had to do and what my job was. It was more of getting tough.”
This past season, Hevalow competed in boys breakaway roping, boys goat tying, team roping (heeler), ribbon roping and junior bulls. He ended up as the state champion in breakaway roping, team roping (heeler) and junior bulls and the reserve champion in boys goat tying and ribbon roping.
Hevalow also won the state title of All-Around Cowboy, given to the best competitor having two or more events.
The finishes allowed Hevalow to advance to the National Junior High Finals Rodeo (NJHFR) held over the span of a week in Lebanon, Tenn. He finished first in both of his performances in the junior bull riding and qualified for the finals, going on to win the world championship. He also finished second — reserve world champion — in goat tying, while placing fourth in the all-around.
The NJHFR features about 1,000 competitors from more than 40 states, Canadian provinces and Australia.
“I knew at the beginning of the year if I wanted the world title,” Hevalow said, “I had to go to them shows and compete and give it all I had because no one was going to give it to me. I had to work for it, and that’s what I did. I knew once I got to the big finals out in Lebanon, I forgot everything I learned and just put my hand in the bull rope and just let everything hang loose and go for a world title.”
Hevalow has collected dozens of championship buckles and six saddles — the most recent for his junior bull riding national title. He plans to compete in the YBR World Finals again this year in an effort to add to his collection.
While he also enjoys hunting and fishing, Hevalow can generally be found on the family’s property. He tends to the stock, including seven horses and six bulls, and spends time practicing or working with younger brother Crash — himself a developing youth rodeo star.
Rodeo requires patience but also a lot of time outside of the arena.
“The most difficult spot is putting the work and time and effort into it,” Hevalow said. “Most kids don’t put effort or work into it, and I could bet a lot of money on it that I’ve worked harder than 90 percent of the kids I’ve competed with my whole life. It takes a lot of work and heart and dedication and blood, sweat and tears to get through it.”
The Hevalows spend more time than just traveling to the 20 NHSRA state competitions. December and January serve as “time off” but most of the other weekends of the year involve rodeo.
Hevalow plans to continue competing at the high school level, while Crash will soon be ready for the junior high competitions. Luckily, both are held at the same time, easing the burden on the family moving forward.
What’s next for Hevalow? He wants to win more world titles, but he says, “I want to go pro more than anything.” He sees bull riding as his future, although he calls team roping his second favorite event.
Hevalow, who has spent his entire life in Platte County, has come a long way from crying in the mutton busting chutes a decade ago. He sets his goals high in rodeo and doesn’t mind the grinding schedule of pursuing his big dreams.
“It doesn’t get tiring,” Hevalow said. “I can see how it wears on other people, but I wish there was rodeo every day. That’s just how bad I love the sport.”