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On the road for rodeo

Dylan Mann finished up his summer of rodeo competition last week.
Dylan Mann finished up his summer of rodeo competition last week.

At this point in time, Dwight High School freshman Dylan Mann needs no introduction.

After all, Mann has been riding horses since the age of 4 and roping at rodeo events since he was in kindergarten.

Mann and his family just wrapped up another busy summer of rodeo competition — something by now they are quite accustomed to.


In the beginning

It’s already been well-documented that Mann began roping and riding at the earliest of ages.

“His older brother Dustin had been doing some bull riding and he wanted to be like his bigger brother,” Dylan’s mother, Michele Darby, said. “He saw all of the other kids riding and roping and decided the wanted to learn that, as well.”

Since then, Dylan has been biding his time and has stayed busy riding in events all over the states in addition to making an annual trek to nationals.

“He has had a lot of help along the way from people we now call our rodeo family,” Darby said. “The older kids are really good about helping the younger kids at the rodeos.

“Dylan has also attended several roping schools and clinics. He practices at home, as well as at a few friend’s arenas in the area.”


Diving to ride

Mann and his entourage compete in two main rodeo associations — the Illinois Junior Rodeo Association and the Illinois Junior High Rodeo Association. Since he is now in high school, he will naturally graduate to the National High School Rodeo Association. Those associations take him all over the state, from places like Pontiac to DuQuoin and as far away as Delevan — with the summer season concluding at the National Junior High Finals in Gallup, N.M.

As you might expect, that kind of travel can take its toll.

“We’ve traveled all over. We all go and drive and then compete together and really, the people we travel with all the time are like family,” Darby said. “It can be anywhere from places with a roping pen in the middle of an open field to bigger arenas where they have power and showers.”

Dylan said that he likes to compete, but that he also likes the comforts of home at the same time.

“Being on the road is fun and I like to be at the rodeo, but I also like getting back to the house,” he said.

As Darby indicated, aside from the thrill of competing, the family has met many people from all over the country that they consider friends.

“I’ve met a lot of friends on the road,” Mann confirmed. “I have friends from Canada and several down south in Florida, Texas and Alabama.”

Many of whom they have met at the national rodeo in New Mexico.

“We were very fortunate to have other families we are close with travel to New Mexico this year,” Darby said. “We all camped together, shared meals and cheered on our kids.”

With all the many places they have been to and have seen over the years, is there one particular favorite of the family?

“I like going down to Delavan to Rawlings Arena,” Darby said. “It’s owned by Roy Rawlings and he’s been great to my son over the years. I like to go back there. It’s an indoor arena.”


Heartbeat to compete

Mann competes against other riders wherever he goes in different events, but the main ones are goat tying, calf roping, team roping and chute dogging. There is also a team event called ribbon roping, amongst others.

He and his teammate Wyatt Hanfin got first place in team roping at the Illinois Junior Rodeo Association State Finals in Hopedale this summer, and another teammate, Beth Day-Wright, got fourth overall at the rodeo in DuQuoin, Ill.

Mann explains the difference between the two events.

“(Team roping) is for two people, where one ropes the head of a steer and the other ropes the back legs,” he said. “Ribbon roping is where one ropes the calf and gets off the horse and the other takes the ribbon off of it’s tail.”

Competing in the sixth-eighth grade division again this summer, Mann finished as the reserve All-Around Cowboy in the IJRA, which means he finished as runner-up in all-around competition.

“I finished second overall and that’s acceptable to me. As long as I’m having fun and working to the best of my ability,” Mann said. “To me, it doesn’t matter if I finish first or if I finish second. What matters is that I’m having fun competing and doing the best of my ability and that I’m trying hard.”

Overall in the IJRA, Mann finished as the champion team roping header, was second in goat tying, fourth in step down calf roping and second in chute dogging.

At the Rawling Arena in Delevan at the state meet, he and his team roping partner Cally Diss won the team roping classification and individually he also qualified for the national rodeo in three events. At nationals, Dylan was given the Best Foot Forward Award for his conduct both inside and outside the arena and he was also named to the Cinch Rodeo Team (overall excellence) for the second time.

Despite all the accolades, Mann thinks he could have finished better than he did this summer.

“Competition wise, at the beginning of the year I thought I was doing pretty good, but I didn’t think I had a good last couple of months,” he said. “I missed a couple of calves there at the end.”


Where to now

While Dylan is now going to be competing at the next level the next time around, Michele says that they will figure out together what events he will participate in.

“He chooses the events but it’s the parents who have to sign the entry papers, so it’s kind of an agreement between the two of us,” Darby said.

And what if he wants to ride a bull?

“Dylan doesn’t do that any more,” Darby answered. “He asks all the time and I always tell him that the answer is when he’s 18 years of age and on his own.”

Darby said that, while she is always conscious that Dylan could get hurt in the rodeo arena, she doesn’t get too worked up over it any more.

“I really don’t get nervous any more because he’s so good at it,” Darby said. “Even though there is always the chance he could get hurt.”

Dylan said that he has learned a lot over the years and had some advice for someone who wanted to ask him how to get better in the sport.

“I’d tell them to get a roping dummy, then teach them to swing and throw a loop,” Mann said. “I’d also show them some of the tricks that I’ve learned.”

Tricks he plans to share for a very long time.

“I plan to do it as long as I can,” Mann said of his rodeoing days. “As long as I can sit in a saddle and hold a rope.”

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