This Thursday, the 18-year-old Kelly High School student and his family will begin their trip to Gillette, Wyo., for his competition in the National High School Rodeo Association's bull riding event for national competition.
"It's the biggest rodeo in the world," said Milam, the son of Rosa and Bruce Milam of Benton. "There are over 3,500 participants." He remarked that high school students from 39 states compete, as well as four provinces from Canada and Australia.
To be eligible to compete in the NHSRA national competition, Milam had to finish as one of the top four bull riders in Missouri. "You try to go to all of the rodeos," he said. He explained rankings are tabulated according to who attended the most rodeos, had the best finishes and highest points. Milam attended 16 NHSRA rodeos and placed third in the state for bull riding.
Milam is no stranger to the national competition. Last year, he received third place honors in the bare back division and fifth place in bull riding at national competition in Farmington, N.M.
His rodeo days began when he was only 8 years old. While at Flickerwood Arena near Jackson, he rode a steer. "I just tried it and I liked it." Milam said. "I used to watch it on TV when I was little and just wanted to try it."
Learning to rodeo quickly became a hobby for Milam, and it fit him like a glove. "It wasn't hard for me," Milam said. He thinks the ease of his first ride is what helped him take to rodeo so naturally. But he admitted that rodeo isn't for everyone. "Lots of people think it's easy but it's not," he pointed out. "It's hard."
His older brother, Joey, got involved in rodeo at the same time. The brothers competed in 4-H rodeo for a year, but their main involvement is in high school and open rodeo.
With both sons in the rodeo, the Milam family became accustomed to spending Friday and Saturday nights on rodeo grounds. They have also become more familiar with Missouri. Milam said they have been all over the state, including St. James, Trenton, Columbia and West Plains. Even when there wasn't an NHSRA rodeo to attend, an open rodeo was held somewhere that he would attend.
This busy schedule has caused Milam to miss out on activities, such as school dances, to participate in rodeo, but he doesn't regret it. "I like it," he said. "It's my life."
Milam said he stays busy during the week. Every day, he practices with the three bulls he owns.
Rodeoing is dangerous and Milam has suffered a few injuries, including tearing the growth plate in his shoulder and a broken jaw, hand, leg and fingers. Earlier this week, he got kicked by a bull, leaving a scar on his face. But he said it is worth the pain. "It's fun, even when you do fall off," he commented.
It can also be rather expensive. A typical entry fee for Friday and Saturday night is $45, in addition to the $185 NHSRA yearly membership fee. Supplies, such as rope, livestock and feed add up, in addition to travel. Luckily, Milam has obtained sponsorship from several community organizations to help alleviate some of these costs.
But finishing in the top four helps rodeo participants earn prize money. "You'll make money, but you aren't going to get rich," Milam said. "For winning first place, you'll maybe get $180." Some competitions award buckles. And a big payoff in NHSRA comes at the end of their high school career, when scholarships are awarded.
But Milam doesn't rodeo to make money, he does it to have fun. "You've got to stay in shape and don't think about the money and keep your mind straight and concentrate," he explained. "It's more mental than physical."
Milam plans to make rodeo a big part of his future. Next year, he plans to join the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and he hopes to attend a college where he can be a part of the school's rodeo team.
But for now, he is concentrating on winning at nationals. He isn't even nervous. "I'm kind of relieved," he said. "After working all year to make it, getting to go and compete makes it worth it."