Archive for September, 2013

postheadericon It’s a race to the 2013 finish

Bray Armes, a 2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Ponder, Texas, is the No. 14 steer wrestler in the world standings. He is pushing things the final weekend of the season to secure his spot at the 2013 NFR, and he's using Kansas City as a major stop. Armes' win at the American Royal last year helped him earn the trip to Las Vegas.

Bray Armes, a 2012 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Ponder, Texas, is the No. 14 steer wrestler in the world standings. He is pushing things the final weekend of the season to secure his spot at the 2013 NFR, and he’s using Kansas City as a major stop. Armes’ win at the American Royal last year helped him earn the trip to Las Vegas.

CONTESTANTS HOPE TO WIN BIG AT AMERICAN ROYAL TO CLINCH THEIR NFR QUALIFICATIONS

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – It’s been a year since one of the most emotional days in Bray Armes’ steer wrestling career.

The Ponder, Texas, cowboy had just completed his 2012 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association season with a statement-making victory at the American Royal Rodeo. He earned $2,326 for the feat and, more importantly, slipped Armes into the top 15 in the world standings and earned the right to compete in ProRodeo’s grand championship, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

Bray Armes

Bray Armes

“I was plumb full of emotion when I found out I was going to the NFR,” said Armes, who finished last season just $55 ahead of the No. 16 man, 2007 world champion Jason Miller. “My wife and I sat in the front yard just hugging and in tears. I couldn’t believe it was finally happening. It was something I’d dreamed about for a long time, and it was finally coming true.”

Armes hopes to return to the NFR for the second straight year, but he again seems to find himself on the bubble for finishing high enough in the standings – only the top 15 contestants on the money list in each event earn the right to compete at the finale, set for Dec. 5-14 in Las Vegas. Heading into this week’s rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Hale Arena at the American Royal complex, Armes is 14th in the standings.

He knows better than anyone just how important it is to do well in Kansas City, which is one of the most lucrative rodeos in the country on the final weekend of the 2013 season.

“I don’t think it’s going to be as important as last year, because I have an $8,000 lead over the 16th guy,” Armes said, referring to British Columbia bulldogger Clayton Moore. But it’s still important to go out and try to win first like I did last year. I hope I can extend my lead over him a little more.

“My goal this year was the same as last year: To make it to the NFR. Now I’m going to try to catch Casey Martin for first place.”

Martin, of Sulphur, La., is atop the world standings with a little more than $91,000. He’s got a $36,355 lead over Armes, but the NFR offers the largest purse of any event all season long. Two go-round wins will erase that lead during the 10-round affair in Las Vegas. That’s why just qualifying for the NFR is so important to contestants who make their livings on the rodeo trail.

Last year alone, Armes pocketed $85,397 in the City of Lights and moved from 15th to sixth in the final world standings.

In Kansas City, he will be joined by several others who are hoping to clinch their rides to Vegas. He’ll be joined by:

Bareback riders: Caleb Bennett (15th), R.C. Landingham (16th) and Clint Laye (18th)
Steer wrestlers: Luke Branquinho (13th), Dakota Eldridge (15th), Moore (16th) and Jake Rinehart (17th)
Team roping headers: Trevor Brazile (12th), Charly Crawford (13th), Travis Tryan (15th), Colby Lovell (16th), Aaron Tsinigine (17th), Chad Masters (18th), Coleman Proctor (19th) and Arky Rogers, (20th)
Team roping heelers: Cesar de la Cruz (12th), Dugan Kelly (13th), Clay O’Brien Cooper (14th), Jake Long (15th) and Martin Lucero (16th)
Saddle bronc riders: Sterling Crawley (14th), Heith DeMoss (15th) and Tyrel Larsen (16th)
Tie-down ropers: Stetson Vest (14th), Randall Carlisle (15th), Cory Solomon (16th), Blair Burk (17th), Cade Swor (18th) and Adam Gray (19th)
Barrel racers: Sydni Blanchard (14th), Trula Churchill (15th), Brenda Mays (16th) and Kim Schulze (17th)
Bull riders: Elliot Jacoby (14th), Steve Woolsey (15th), Clayton Foltyn (16th) and Bobby Welsh (17th)

postheadericon ‘The Ride’ provides viewers a lesson on history at Willow Brook Farms

A young C.T. Fuller, who later helped reining take off as owner of Willow Brook Farms, rides a horse, many years before becoming a hall-of-fame horse owner. Willow Brook Farms is being showcased on the next episode of "The Ride with Cord McCoy," which airs 1 and 11 p.m. Eastern time Monday on RFD-TV. (PHOTO COURTESY WILLOW BROOK FARMS)

A young C.T. Fuller, who later helped reining take off as owner of Willow Brook Farms, rides a horse, many years before becoming a hall-of-fame horse owner. Willow Brook Farms is being showcased on the next episode of “The Ride with Cord McCoy,” which airs 1 and 11 p.m. Eastern time Monday on RFD-TV. (PHOTO COURTESY WILLOW BROOK FARMS)

The history behind Willow Brook Farms is immense, and viewers of the Sept. 30 episode of “The Ride with Cord McCoy” will get to experience it.

“Only about 45 minutes from Philadelphia and 20- minutes from New Jersey lies one of the best equine facilities on the East Coast,” McCoys said as he opened the show, which airs at 1 and 11 p.m. Eastern time Mondays on RFD-TV. “We’ve definitely found a diamond in the rough.”

The 325-acre property sits between Bethlehem and Allentown in eastern Pennsylvania, which was acquired by James W. Fuller. His son, C.T., however, is the one that made Willow Brook Farms into grand piece of equine history.

“I stepped off the plane, and 10 minutes later I’m on the back of a horse,” McCoy said, explaining the property’s proximity to the urban life that exists in eastern Pennsylvania. “That, actually, was one of the advantages of that place back in its heyday, because if somebody wanted to view a horse, they could fly in and ride a horse, then be on a plane back home in an hour.”

There were a lot of advantages when it came to horses at Willow Brook, and it centered on horses.

“When I was a little girl, I would see pictures of my grandmother and my grandfather riding horses,” said Holly Fuller McLain, C.T.’s daughter. “When I was 8 years old, he bought a horse.”

C.T. Fuller hired Bob Anthony as a stable boy and to ride some of the farm’s horses.

“He asked my dad if he could start riding my one horse, breezy,” McLain said. “That fall he entered the horse in the Pennsylvania National Horse Show in Harrisburg. He won the open stock horse class on Breezy.

“That was the start of it.”

Fuller realized he had something, and he built upon the passion that was burning. He acquired the great Joe Cody, which has been inducted into the American Quarter Horse Association and the National Reining Horse Association halls of fame with Fuller.

“My dad had very talented natural athletes,” McLain said. “Bob Anthony was very naturally gifted as a horseman and trainer. Gene Brandner was the one who developed and created a good sliding plate. The first sliders were Gene Brandner putting sliding shoes on these horses so they could go out and really slide.

“The team my dad had was amazing. When we got horses and Bob Anthony was champion, my father got a spark to do something with horses. He had a vision about Quarter Horses and promoting them. He was a very good businessman, and he always had a vision of what he wanted, and this was it. He had a dream, and he made it come true.”

Those who were around him most saw that spark, and they knew then they were part of something special. But it’s the legacy that took McCoy and “The Ride” video crew to Pennsylvania to shoot the episode.

“The history of the place is what got to me,” McCoy said. “When you’re there, you realize that the most famous reining horse trainers have been through Willow Brook forever. It’s pretty awesome.”

It is. Willow Brook farms sits on rolling hills and is tucked away in the country living that’s just a stone’s throw from the city life. But alongside the trees and grasslands is majesty for those who understand.

“There’s just something about this place that is reining,” horse trainer Josette Conti said. “It sort of is where reining came from. It feels like home.”

It was for C.T. Fuller, and he passed along his love and his legacy to those closest to him. Now they’re excited to carry it forward.

“There are so many people behind the farm that I’m excited for its future,” McCoy said. “You talk to some of the people who worked with him or grew up around him, and C.T. is the kind of guy, that if you had a time machine, you’d definitely want to meet.”

postheadericon Hempstead rodeo is all entertainment

HEMPSTEAD, Texas – Rodeo is a competition featuring tremendous animal athletes and rugged cowboys and cowgirls.

In this part of Texas, it is so much more, and that’s just what Clint Sciba has planned for the Waller County Fair and Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 3-Saturday, Oct. 5, at the Waller County Fairgrounds in Hempstead.

WallerLogo“My main basis on that deal was that if we were going to spend that much on a PRCA rodeo, I really wanted to make it the best in the Southeast, whether it’s southeast Texas or the Southeastern United States,” said Sciba, the Waller County Fair Board president and chairman of the rodeo committee. “We wanted to produce the most non-stop, action-filled rodeo within the constraints of our finances, so that’s what we set out to do.”

How?

The foundation for a great event is based on its production. That’s why the fair board hired Pete Carr to produce the annual rodeo. Carr owns Carr Pro Rodeo and Pete Carr’s Classic Pro Rodeo, which, combined, has become the largest stock contracting company in the sport.

“When you want to be the best, you need to be associated with the best, and that’s what we’ve got with Pete,” Sciba said. “He’s been nominated for stock contractor of the year in the PRCA, and in my opinion, he’s the best there is. He’s got great horses and bulls, and that’s one of the main reasons we get all the best cowboys to our rodeo.”

Great rides and fast times make for amazing competition, but Waller County’s rodeo features so much more. This year, in fact, it will feature two great acts, including the return of funnyman Troy Lerwill, a six-time winner of the PRCA Specialty Act of the Year Award, along with Bobby Kerr and his Mustang Makeover act.

“Troy is one of the funniest guys out there, not just in rodeo,” Carr said. “I try to get him as often as I can, because he brings a whole new dimension to each show. He’s the best entertainer in rodeo because of how he handles the crowd.”

Kerr is the perfect fit for the high-action entertainment, showcasing the versatile nature of once-wild mustangs.

“Fans are going to love what these mustangs can do,” Sciba said. “When you combine that with Pete Carr’s great bucking horses, you get to see some awesome animals work. We’re pretty fortunate to have that kind of a show to put on.”

That’s why the Waller County Fair and Rodeo is a must-see for anyone who wants to enjoy a great night of entertainment.

“It’s really special for us to be involved in an event that wants to grow and be part of professional rodeo.” Carr said. “Clint Sciba took a chance on us, and we will continue to try and exceed his and everyone’s expectation in Waller County. The entire fair and rodeo team are excited about what all is going on in Hempstead. They want to continue to grow the whole fair and rodeo, and I think they’ve got the community support and enthusiasm to make it happen.”

postheadericon Rodeo life is key to Gallatin crew

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There is something special about the American Royal Fall Festival to Connie Crouse. It’s been that way most of her life.

The Gallatin, Mo., woman recalls the days of attending the various activities in the West Bottoms. As a cowgirl, she competed in the ProRodeo at the American Royal, alongside her husband, Gene. Now it all comes full circle with her children, Kirbie, 17, and Tommy, 11, set to compete at the Invitational Youth Rodeo, which takes place Tuesday, Sept. 24-Friday, Sept. 27, at Hale Arena.

AmericanRoyal“The Royal has so much heritage and history to it,” she said. “When I was a kid, we weren’t rodeo people but ranchers, but my family would go every year and walk around the trade show and go to the ProRodeo one night. The American Royal was an important event, and we cherished it. It is the same with my husband and his family.

“Gene and I both competed at it, so, to us, it’s still a big part of our lives.”

Kirbie will compete in the senior division, which takes place at 11:30 a.m. Tuesday. A goat-tier, breakaway roper and team roper, the teenager will test her talents against the other competitors in the roping events – the Invitational Youth Rodeo doesn’t feature goat-tying, even though she’s the reigning Missouri State High School Rodeo Association champion in that event.

“She’s a very aggressive competitor,” Connie said. “Sometimes it hinders her, because she’s all or nothing. She’s going to be fast, and she’s going to try to win first. She’s not afraid to go for it. But that’s also her strength.”

Indeed. In 2012, Kirbie won the second round in goat-tying at the National High School Finals Rodeo in Rock Springs, Wyo. She’s also competed in breakaway at the national level.

“Both my husband and I were the first generations of our family to rodeo, so our kids would be second generation,” Connie said. “It’s a good thing for families because, in my eyes, my kids are in my horse trailer with me on the weekends. They enjoy it, like it, and they’re competitive.”

Tommy is a calf roper who will compete in breakaway roping in Kansas City in the junior division, which will begin at noon Wednesday and Thursday – the finals will take place at noon Friday. Tommy is scheduled to compete Wednesday, with hopes of qualifying for Friday’s festivities.

“He really likes to tie-down rope,” his mother said, referring to the next step in calf roping, where contestants tie three of an animal’s legs in order to earn a qualified time. “He’s done really well so far, so we’ll see.”

The youth rodeo is a unique event in the fact that the competitors are invited to participate. The senior division features high school-aged cowboys and cowgirls, while the junior division includes eighth-graders and younger.

“I think it’s one of the coolest rodeos I work because we get to give those kids a venue like most of them have never seen before,” said Scott Grover, the arena announcer from Weston, Mo. “To me, it’s exciting because we get to peak at what the future is going to bring to ProRodeo.”

Grover knows, because he’s one of the rising stars among Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association announcers. He tours the country, lending his voice and his expertise to the fans to help enhance their experience.

“You get to see the excitement these kids have in that event, which is amazing,” Grover said. “I’m getting to an age now where I’ve watched their moms and dads rodeo, and now I’m announcing the kids.”

That brings it all back to the Crouses. Gene and Carrie still compete, primarily in the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association and the United Rodeo Association. Their children are part of those organizations, too, so they all have the opportunity to compete together.

“Our kids were horseback all their lives, and I think that’s a good thing,” Carrie Crouse said.

Hopefully it pays off for the family over a few days in Kansas City.

postheadericon ‘The Ride’ shows how Protect The Harvest combats animal rights activists

Animal rights extremists have set a tone that endangers rural America and the Western way of life.

Forest Lucas doesn’t like it.

Lucas, president and CEO of Lucas Oil Products, is ready to fight the extremism by shedding light on the truths involving animal welfare. That’s why he created Protect The Harvest, which was developed to defend families, farmers, ranchers, sportsmen and animal owners from the growing threat of the radical animal rights movement.

Forest Lucas

Forest Lucas

“When I was raised, no one was allowed to steal or lie,” Lucas told Cord McCoy on the Sept. 23 episode of “The Ride with Cord McCoy,” which airs at 1 and 11 p.m. Eastern time Mondays on RFD-TV. “I still live that way. I don’t like liars and thieves, and these animal rights people are liars and thieves. They’re taking people’s money that think they’re giving to real animal welfare, and it’s not being used for animal welfare.”

Lucas is passionate about the cause, and he’s putting up his own money to promote it. A farm-raised man who grew up poor and worked as a long-haul trucker before creating the oil empire, Lucas realizes he has a means to make a difference – the company has the naming rights to Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the Indianapolis Colts, and is heavily involved in auto racing.

“There’s a lot of people going to come to my side, but right now we’re able to fund the thing ourselves,” he said, noting that Protect The Harvest is a division of Lucas Oil. “I feel so blessed that I can do this because this is the most important thing in the world to me right now. Something has to be done, and nobody else is going to do it.”

Protect The Harvest utilizes proven techniques and Lucas Oil resources to educate the public about animal welfare. On the show, he provided a clear-cut example during the Indiana State Fair, which took place in early August in his hometown of Indianapolis.

ProtectTheHarvest“It encompasses more than farming and ranching,” said Keri MacBeth, the West Coast representative for Protect The Harvest. “It touches everybody. What we did here was try to educate people in a colorful way with the meats and uses we get out of these animals.

“We also came up with a lot of additional fun facts on domestic animals.”

While extremists turn to sympathetic members of the media to spread the word, Protect The Harvest takes a grassroots campaign straight to the people so they might learn more about the differences behind animal rights and animal welfare.

“I think Protect The Harvest’s mission fits well with what our views on the agriculture industry in Indiana have been in my part of the world,” Indiana State Rep. Mark Messmer said. “It’s taken that educational process across the country, across our world. The way they approach it makes sense and works well to be able to feed a growing population.”

The episode also reveals the difference between local humane shelters and the Humane Society of the United States, which is a radical animal rights organization.

“The local humane societies are independent and not part of a national group and provide a great service to their community,” said John Eleshire, CEO of the Humane Society of Indiana. “Mr. Lucas is a prominent citizen here in Indianapolis who cares about our work and invited us here to showcase our work, independent of anything else, and to let people know there’s a difference.

“It’s all about the animals.”

McCoy, a ranch-raised cowboy from southeast Oklahoma, knows all about the importance of animals in today’s society. He raises animals, including bucking bulls, and made a name for himself as one of the top cowboys in the PBR. He spoke to fair-goers, and his comments sent a powerful message home.

“I think there’s a responsibility for us,” McCoy said. “I definitely want to pat Forest Lucas on the back for taking that first step in protecting our harvest. I want to do my part to help educate the world on our harvest and protecting it for me, my kids and, maybe someday, my grandkids.”

postheadericon Qualifiers set for Prairie Circuit Finals

DUNCAN, Okla. – How big is the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo?

Many of the biggest names in the sport have worked hard all season to earn the right to compete at the regional championship, set for Oct. 17-19 at the Stephens County Fair and Expo Center in Duncan. They’ve circled dates on the calendar and traveled all over Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska to focus on Destination Duncan and a chance to compete for the coveted circuit championships.

On the line are year-end titles in virtually every event, while others will try to secure average championships during the three days of competition in southern Oklahoma.

Trell Etbauer

Trell Etbauer

Most importantly, the list of potential contestants reads like a who’s who in ProRodeo: world champions and numerous qualifiers to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s super bowl.

“If you rodeo for a living and you live in the Prairie Circuit, it’s where you want to be,” said Stockton Graves, a seven-time steer wrestling NFR qualifier from Newkirk, Okla.

That’s true. Graves not only leads the steer wrestling standings, he’s the No. 1 man in the all-around race, just $78 ahead of three-time circuit all-around champ Trell Etbauer, a three-time Linderman Award winner for excelling in both timed events and rough stock riding – he earns his keep in steer wrestling, tie-down roping, steer roping and saddle bronc riding. Etbauer also is the son of two-time world champion bronc rider Robert and the nephew of five-time titlist Billy.

Justin McDaniel

Justin McDaniel

Those are just two of the big names who have earned the right to compete in Duncan; they’ll be joined by several who own ProRodeo gold buckles: 2008 bareback riding world champion Justin McDaniel of Porum, Okla.; three-time world champion steer roper Rocky Patterson of Pratt, Kan.; two-time steer wrestling world champion Dean Gorsuch of Gearing, Neb.; 2009 heading world champion Nick Sartain of Dover, Okla.; 2009 heeling titlist Kollin VonAhn of Blanchard, Okla.; and 2005 all-around world champ Ryan Jarrett of Comanche, Okla.

The field should also include several National Finals qualifiers: steer wrestlers Jule Hazen of Ashland, Kan.; saddle bronc rider Wade Sundell of Boxholm, Iowa; and Ty Atchison of Jackson, Mo.; tie-down ropers Jerome Schneeberger of Ponca City, Okla., Hunter Herrin of Apache, Okla., and Garrett Nokes of McCook, Neb.; barrel racer Tana Poppino of Big Cabin, Okla.; steer ropers J.P. Wickett of Sallisaw, Okla., Mike Chase of McAlester, Okla., Ralph Williams of Skiatook, Okla., and Rod Hartness and Chet Herren, both of Pawhuska, Okla.; and bull riders Tate Stratton of Kellyville, Okla., and Trevor Kastner of Ardmore, Okla.

But those may not be the brightest story in the Prairie Circuit this season. That honor should belong to newcomer Sage Kimzey of Strong City, Okla., who has already clinched the year-end bull riding championship. He has earned $47,726 this season, setting a single-season record by earnings from a permit-holder in any event. Of that, $36,347 came from rodeos in the region.

But there will be plenty of year-end titles up for grabs. In addition to the all-around, the team roping, saddle bronc riding and tie-down roping will come down to the wire.

That’s why they play the game.

postheadericon Whitfield ready to meet his fans

Fred Whitfield won his first world championship in 1991 when he was just 24 years old. Six more tie-down roping titles have followed, and he added the 1999 all-around gold buckle. The most decorated African American in rodeo will be in Kansas City next weekend and will sign his autobiography, Gold Buckles Don't Lie, the Untold Tale of Fred Whitfield.

Fred Whitfield won his first world championship in 1991 when he was just 24 years old. Six more tie-down roping titles have followed, and he added the 1999 all-around gold buckle. The most decorated African American in rodeo will be in Kansas City next weekend and will sign his autobiography, Gold Buckles Don’t Lie, the Untold Tale of Fred Whitfield.

EIGHT-TIME WORLD CHAMP TO ROPE IN K.C., SIGN AUTOBIOGRAPHY

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Fred Whitfield is the most decorated African-American in rodeo, the owner of eight world championships and 20 qualifications to the sport’s marquee event, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

In a pro career that has spanned 24 years, he has won titles at many of the most prestigious events in the game, including the American Royal Rodeo. He returns to Kansas City next week for another run at the championship during the 2013 rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, inside Hale Arena at the American Royal Complex.

“I won it my rookie year and a couple of other times,” said Whitfield, 46, of Hockley, Texas. “It’s always been a good rodeo, and I’ve always had success there. Fans have always been so great, which is another reason I like coming to Kansas City.”

Fred Whitfield

Fred Whitfield

He’ll have a greater opportunity to meet with rodeo fans at this year’s event. You see, Whitfield co-authored his biography – Gold Buckles Don’t Lie, the Untold Tale of Fred Whitfield – with writer Terri Powers, and he will conduct a book-signing in conjunction with the rodeo. Whitfield will have books available at the American Royal complex and will sign during Saturday’s 2 p.m. performance and from 6-7:30 p.m., prior to the start of the evening show.

“If I need to, I can still meet with fans after I rope that night,” he said.

Roping has been Whitfield’s primary focus most his life. The book details how he overcame childhood struggles – growing up in a poor family with an abusive father and battling through numerous challenges along the way – to reach the pinnacle of rodeo. He earned his first tie-down roping gold buckle in 1991, at the age of 24 in just his second year of roping in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, the premier organization in the sport.

“I never envisioned myself doing a book, but over the years, there’s just been so many things I’ve been through in my life that I never talked about,” Whitfield said. “There are so many emotions in this book … the highs, the lows, the feel-good moments. It just makes you feel good, and it’s also inspiring.

“There are a lot of kids that grow up that have to go through this stuff. If they read something like this, it gives them some hope.”

Through the tumultuous times he experienced, Whitfield balanced it with passion for roping. He’d spend as much time as possible in the arena, whether it was riding bareback on a pony or being mounted on world-class horse. He found solace in it and the people that helped him along the way.

“I went through hell, but a lot of it was building character,” he said. “I can realize that now. When I was going through that stuff, it made no sense to me.

“The reason I never talked about it before was I felt like the success was better for it. No matter how bad it was, I was always positive. That’s just the type of person I am.”

He found what worked to build on his success. In telling his tales, Whitfield reflected on days when arrogance was getting the better of him. He realizes the fine line cockiness plays with confidence, and he tries to stay on the conservative side.

“I knew I was good, but I wasn’t trying to be cocky,” he said. “I’d celebrate, but I’d never rub in in their face when I beat them. I was having success in roping. I was molded to be quiet and subdued, but in order to be a world champion – a Fred Whitfield, a Joe Beaver, a Ty Murray – you have to be different.

“You think a lot different. You eat, you breathe, you crave whatever your profession is. That’s the only way you can go.”

Whitfield still craves the competition, but he realizes that a man in his mid-40s has certain limitations. The arena is still a great place to be, but the miles it takes to get from one event to another has taken its toll. When he ran his final calf in the 10th round of the 2012 NFR, Whitfield knew it was the last time he was going to compete in ProRodeo’s championship. Roping is still very much who he is and what he’s about, which is the main reason he’ll be in Kansas City.

But he loves spending time with his family and getting to chat with fans.

“The one thing I can say about my career is that no matter what, I’ve been accepted by my fans with open arms,” Whitfield said. “It means the world to me.”

BOOK SIGNING: Eight-time world champion Fred Whitfield will conduct a book-signing of Gold Buckles Don’t Lie, the Untold Tale of Fred Whitfield at the American Royal complex during the second performance of the American Royal Rodeo, which begins at 2 p.m. Saturday. He will return to sign from 6-7:30 p.m. later Saturday. Books can be purchased on site for $25 cash only.

postheadericon Volunteers make rodeo work

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The logistics of producing an event are tough enough for anyone to manage. Throw in all the variables involved in a rodeo, the job just got tougher – livestock, contract personnel, competitors, fans, just to name a few.

When you add the prestige and history involved in the American Royal Rodeo, there’s even more that goes into making everything work; this year’s championship is set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, inside Hale Arena at the American Royal Complex.

AmericanRoyalWelcome to the world of Todd Harrington and Darby Zaremba, the co-chairs of the American Royal Rodeo committee, who have found it their tasks to produce one of America’s longest standing sports that takes place in one of America’s historic Western towns now surrounded by a metropolis.

“I had never had any dealings with rodeo other than watching it as a kid,” said Harrington, who, by day, is the vice president for business development at MHC Truck Leasing Inc. “I really had no idea how much work it took to put on a successful performance and a successful rodeo until I started volunteering for the American Royal Rodeo.”

You see, Harrington and Zaremba lead a core crew of people who donate their time, their talent and their work to help organize, fund and produce the rodeo, which is just another extension of the American Royal’s purpose, to help raise money that returns to the community in the form of charitable donations. In 2012, the American Royal provided $1.4 million in scholarship and educational awards.

None of that is possible without many of the events that are part of the Fall Festival, and the annual celebration isn’t possible without the assistance of the many volunteers.

“Volunteers make up a tremendous amount of our work force during the two and a half months of our Fall Festival,” said Bob Petersen, president and CEO of the American Royal. “We have so many things going on around our complex in that time that it takes many people to make it happen. We couldn’t give back to the community without the help of our volunteers.”

Harrington began his volunteer service to the Royal about 10 years ago. In addition to spending his time in the West Bottoms each fall, he has a little help from each member of his family.

“The reason I started was that we were trying to set a good example for our kids and show them there’s a lot more to life than working 8 to 5 and going home,” he said. “You’re not completely fulfilled as a human unless you’re giving back, whether it’s a community service like the American Royal or a church or the multitude of other services.

“It’s important to us, as parents, that our kids understood and lived that.”

That’s why his wife, Diane, and their two children, Courtney, 23, and Aaron, 20, have been key members of the enlisted staff since Harrington signed up for his service.

“A lot of people take all the events over the two and a half months at face value … the parade, the barbecue, etc.,” he said. “Those are all just instruments to generate the scholarship money that’s given every year. That’s the conduit. If the rodeo contributes X number of dollars this year, you build on that next year, and the American Royal and its mission is going beyond its expectations and fulfilling and affecting hundreds of thousands of kids’ lives … many of those kids that may not have a chance somewhere else.”

That’s the foundation of the volunteer program, one in which Harrington takes great pride. It’s why so many people are part of the American Royal.

“Whatever brought them to volunteer for the committee, we utilize all that they have to offer,” he said. “The contributions of their time and what they bring to the committee … you couldn’t pay a staff enough to do everything they do.”

postheadericon Families are a big part of rodeo

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When Randy Corley arrives in Kansas City to work the final week of September, he will bring his family with him.

Corley is the American Royal Rodeo announcer, one of the top personalities in the sport. While he tackles his tasks on the West Bottoms, he will have the opportunity to work with his wife, Michelle Corley, and his daughter, Amanda Corley-Sanders. Yes, it’s a family affair, but that’s also a great way to describe rodeo itself.

“It is quite an honor for me to get to work with two of the greatest ladies in my life,” said Randy, an 11-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Announcer of the Year, who returns as the voice of Kansas City’s rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 27, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 28, inside Hale Arena at the American Royal Complex.

ProRodeo announcer Scott Grover, left, travels the circuit with his wife, Becky. They'll both be part of the American Royal in some capacity: Scott will announce the Invitational Youth Rodeo, while Becky is organizing the Miss Rodeo Missouri pageant.

ProRodeo announcer Scott Grover, left, travels the circuit with his wife, Becky. They’ll both be part of the American Royal in some capacity: Scott will announce the Invitational Youth Rodeo, while Becky is organizing the Miss Rodeo Missouri pageant.

Michelle Corley will work as a timer, while Sanders is the rodeo’s secretary. It’s a detailed description of what makes the rodeo family so special.

“We were married on the phone for twenty-some years,” Michelle said, noting that as an announcer, her husband is on the rodeo trail most weeks throughout the year. “When both of our kids were raised, we decided to do this together.

“The first time I got in the truck with him, we weren’t even two hours from the house, and he looked at me and said, ‘I feel like I’ve got my best friend back.’ ”

Randy has four children: Amanda and Kassi from his first marriage to their mother, Diane, and Cole and Brittany with Michelle. Only Amanda has taken to the sport that’s been such a big part of their lives, but it’s not the only extension of the family tree that is the Corley home. Michelle is the daughter of ProRodeo Hall of Fame announcer Hadley Barrett, with whom Randy works numerous events per year.

“His two older girls are all over the country,” Michelle said, noting that Kassi is a teacher in Powell, Wyo. “Now we get the chance to see them more often, and I get to see my dad a lot more. Kansas City will be the first rodeo she’s secretaries that we’re both working with her. It’ll be a lot of fun.”

Just by the gypsy nature of the sport – traveling from town to town all across the country – the people involved in rodeo develop a tight, familial bond. It comes with the passion that is involved in the game and a strong Western heritage. It’s easy to see friends who rely on one another like brothers and sisters. It’s also one of the most attractive pieces of the pie for many who make their living on the rodeo trail.

“I think one thing that drew me to the sport from the very beginning is the family atmosphere,” said ProRodeo announcer Scott Grover, who has called the American Royal Invitational Youth Rodeo for the last seven years. “I can drive through any state in this country, and if I need something, it’s only a phone call away.

“Just because we’re not related by blood does not mean we’re not family. My closest friends don’t live close to me; they live thousands of miles away, but we share every aspect of our lives together.”

Grover, of Weston, Mo., is a newlywed and, like Randy Corley, travels from town to town, state to state with his bride, the former Becky McGee. She, too, comes from a strong rodeo family – her father, Bobby, was a bullfighter and clown, and her mom, Danelle, was a trick rider – so Becky knew what to expect.

“I was pretty much born into it,” said Becky, the 2003 Miss Rodeo Missouri who is now president of the Miss Rodeo Missouri Pageant. “When that’s all you’ve ever known when you grow up, it just seems to be a normal thing. As I’ve gotten older, I appreciate the camaraderie and the family aspect of it.”

By traveling with their wives, the announcers have developed a family business. Because of their lifelong experiences in rodeo, Michelle and Becky bring much more to the table than a typical spouse, and that aids in what both men do.

“She’s not the kind that’s just going to sit around, and she has made things so nice,” Randy said. “We have a database on my computer of over 6,000 head of horses and bulls, and we keep up with everything that’s going on. She does such an amount of work it’s unbelievable; she’s made my job much easier.”

That’s a big part of the Grover’s life. When they’re on the road, she provides all the detailed assistance he needs.

“She’s absolutely amazing, because she does everything from giving me directions to helping me with my stat work to helping me get my horse ready,” said Scott, who will announce the Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo for the sixth time in October. “She critiques every once and a while to keep me on the level and to help me improve.”

Beyond the work, there is a genuine love for rodeo, and they get to share it together.

“The people in rodeo have a really deep care for one another,” Michelle Corley said. “For the ones who don’t get to have their wife or husband with them, they have family in the rest of us. For me, I’m having a lot of fun.

“I get to be with my husband, my best friend that I missed for twenty-some years; plus I get to laugh and have a lot of fun.”

postheadericon Fair explodes on opening Saturday

HEMPSTEAD, Texas – The Waller County Fair and Rodeo has long been a destination point for folks in southeastern Texas because of the overall entertainment packed into 10 days.

Fair and rodeo organizers have stepped it up for 2013, including a major move on opening weekend. The opening Saturday night of the fair will feature an incredible lineup that includes Bull Mania and the Stoney LaRue concert, all happening at the Waller County Fairgrounds in Hempstead.

Texas Music artist Stoney LaRue will be part of an action-packed Waller County Fair and Rodeo on its opening Saturday, Sept. 28. It will also include a 30-man bull riding, Bull Mania.

Texas Music artist Stoney LaRue will be part of an action-packed Waller County Fair and Rodeo on its opening Saturday, Sept. 28. It will also include a 30-man bull riding, Bull Mania.

“We’re really excited about the lineup we have at this year’s fair, because it’s going to be great all 10 days,” said Clint Sciba, president of the Waller County Fair Board and chairman of the rodeo committee. “I think we’ve got the best lineup we’ve ever had on that first Saturday.”

The evening is kick-started at 6:30 p.m. with mutton busting, a fan-favorite that features young daredevils riding sheep. It will be followed by calf riding, a calf scramble and Bull Mania, a stand-alone bull riding event that is part of the Triple Crown Championship Bull Riding Series. The LaRue concert closes out a full day of activity.

“We’ve got our Kid Zone, which begins at 12 noon that day and runs all the way until 5 p.m.,” Sciba said, noting the Kid Zone will feature moon walks, a petting zoo, pony rides, face painting, a pet show at 2 p.m., a miniature cattle show at 3 p.m., and the Texas “Gator Country,” which will feature educational sessions, photographs with snakes, alligators and all other types of reptiles from 1-4 p.m.

“The great thing about that day, like almost every day of our fair, is that you can come early and enjoy a full day with the entire family,” Sciba said.

Bull Mania will feature 30 outstanding bull riders competing. The top six scores from the first round qualify for the championship round.

“We have something going on in our rodeo arena every day of the fair, and I can’t think of a better way to begin this thing than to have Bull Mania,” Sciba said. “In this part of the country, we love our rodeo. But the cool thing about Bull Mania is that people who don’t know much about rodeo still love to watch bull riding.

“It’s man vs. beast, and it can be like watching a wreck about to happen every time the gate opens. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

So will the LaRue concert, which will being about 11:30 on the fair’s main stage. His single “Travelin’ Kind” surged to No. 1 on the Texas Music Chart this past February.

LaRue released his first album a decade ago; since then, he has been one of the elite acts on the Red Dirt scene. His current album, “Velvet,” was released two years ago and marked the first time in six years he had released a studio album – “The Red Dirt Album” was released in 2005, then LaRue followed with “Live at Billy Bobs” in 2007.

“ ‘Live at Billy Bobs’ was like jumping straight into the fire,” LaRue said. “Two weeks after putting the band together, we recorded the album, hit the road and did 250 dates a year. We never looked back.”

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