GUTHRIE, Okla. – Oklahomans are a proud bunch; they’ll especially be proud during the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping, which will feature top 15 ropers in the business.
It doesn’t hurt a thing that five qualifiers are from Oklahoma, and they’re happier than anyone to be part of the 10-round slugfest planned for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11, and Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Lazy E Arena, the longtime home of the championship.
“I don’t know the exact dimensions of the arena floor, but I know you could set a lot of coliseums in an arena that is that big,” said J.P. Wickett, the 15th-ranked cowboy in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association standings from Sallisaw, Okla. “It’s unreal. It’s the pinnacle spot to have the steer roping finals.”
The Lazy E has been host of the championship for 19 of its 53 years in existence. Built in time to host the 1984 steer roping finale in conjunction with the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo just 25 minutes away in downtown Oklahoma City, the arena has been home to many world champions in the nearly 30 years since.
It’s also the place to be for elite steer ropers like Wickett and fellow Oklahomans Chet Herren of Pawhuska (No. 8 in the standings); Ralph Williams of Skiatook (10); Kim Ziegelgruber of Edmond (11); and Mike Chase of McAlester (12).
“I grew up in Oklahoma, and I’ve lived here all my life,” said Wickett, the event representative with the PRCA, a post on which he was voted by fellow steer ropers. “The Lazy E was built to have the steer roping finals.”
It’s the right rightful home to this kind of a championship. The arena was host to the steer roping finale from 1984-2000. For five years, the championship moved to Amarillo, Texas, then to Hobbs, N.M., for three years. It returned to Oklahoma in 2009, and Wickett was one of the driving forces behind that decision.
“This is probably the hardest year for me,” said Wickett, a 12-time qualifier who makes this his 11th straight trip. “I took my family with me in July and August for a little bit, then when I came home, it was really hard for me to stay gone. It’s harder for me every year.
“I wasn’t really going to go that hard any more, but the way things worked out, I got lucky and made it. It went down to the last steer of the season, and I made it in.”
Sometimes that’s all it takes to make a successful run during the two days of competition. Wickett won’t win this year’s world championship; he’s too far down the standings. But he has a chance to make a significant bonus on his annual salary, which is why the top players in the game want to be at the Lazy E in November.
“Steer roping is one of the original events in rodeo,” said Wickett, who qualified for the NFR in heading in 1998. “I’ve roped calves. I’ve headed; I’ve heeled. Roping steer takes more horsemanship. You have to be better with your rope. You not only have to be fast, but you have to be patient. If you do one thing wrong, it could lead to a bunch of problems.
“It’s a gentleman’s sport. It’s great to be around that bunch of guys. You’ve got to be able to handle your horse, handle cattle and handle a rope.”
While he’d like to walk away with the coveted gold buckle, Wickett knows that won’t happen this year. He also has a pretty good idea on which competitor will.
“Trevor Brazile,” Wickett said matter-of-factly about the 14-time world champion who owns eight all-around, three tie-down roping, two steer roping and a heading world title. “The year I made the finals, I made it with Trevor. You just cannot give Trevor Brazile a lead. He knows how to take the ball and run with it.”