Archive for September, 2018

postheadericon Support is key in fair’s success

The Waller County Fair and Rodeo takes place every October because of the support from the community, sponsors and fairgoers.

The Waller County Fair and Rodeo takes place every October because of the support from the community, sponsors and fairgoers.

HEMPSTEAD, Texas – The success of the annual Waller County Fair and Rodeo runs equivalent to the support it receives around the southeast Texas communities within its borders.

“I think the community has seen the growth and what the fair has done in the past, and they’ve followed suit,” said Dustin Standley, president of the Waller County Fair Board. “They’ve seen positive growth in the fair. When people see something positive, they are positive in support of it.”

The volunteer-based exposition is one of just five county fairs in the state that is not underwritten by the county government. Every ounce of financial support – gate admission, sponsors and donations – helps the fair board toward its mission for the youth of Waller County.

“The biggest part goes toward the scholarship fund,” said Susan Shollar, chairwoman of the fair’s exhibition auction. “For the past 2 years, we’ve given $80,000 a year in scholarships. In 2008, we allocated $8,000 to the scholarship fund, so it’s increased a lot in 10 years.”

Yes, it has. From great food to a world-class rodeo to seven top-flight concerts, fairgoers have a host of activities and entertainment options to consider.

“We have 250 sponsors, and they’re important because they cover all the expenses to put on the county fair,” Standley said. “It allows us to pay for our entertainment, our rodeo production and all the other costs that come with putting on this fair and rodeo, and that allows us to put more back into the youth of Waller County.”

The youth is not just the mission for the fair board; it’s more of a meaningful thought process that each volunteer carries as they go about the tasks of preparing and producing the exposition. By having a solid base of sponsors, that financial support opens the doors for so many other opportunities.

“The retention rate of our sponsors is about 95 percent, with a 20 percent increase each year,” Standley said. “We let the sponsors know that we are trying to give back to youth. We’ve built a program that’s beneficial to all of our sponsors. We attempt to pack as much of a punch to give them a bang for their dollars. We want them to see the value in partnering with us.”

That partnership continues to pay off, but there are also other friends of the fair who donate to the cause. Each spring, the fair board organizes a big crawfish boil and auction – a fundraiser that allows bidders to purchase a variety of auction items. This event has grown substantially in the past few years allowing the fair to upgrade the facilities and continue to grow the scholarship fund.

“We have the same group of core buyers that come to the fair in October for the exhibit auction, and they also come to the fundraiser in April and spend quite a bit of money,” Shollar said.

It goes back to that foundation. Doing positive things draws positive results, especially when the end game is for the betterment of youth in the county.

“There’s a whole lot of support in Waller County,” she said. “They support the fair, and they support the sports associations. They’re behind their kids in the county.”

About 150 people register for the exhibit auctions every year. The key there is that the students who show the exhibits are the direct beneficiaries of the auction – all money that goes through the bidding process is directed to the exhibitor.

From 2005-2017, there has been an average of 200-220 lots in the exhibit auction.

“We’ve gone from $402,000 to $814,000, and that money goes straight to the kids,” Shollar said. “They get what their project sells for.”

It truly is a fair for the next generation.

postheadericon Munsell dedicates win to grandma

ALVA, Okla. – A year ago, Taylor Munsell sat in Colby, Kan., not sure which way to turn.

Her grandmother, Cindy Hunter, was in the hospital and not doing well, and Munsell was set to rope the next morning at the Colby Community College Rodeo. Her family urged her to compete, and the Northwestern Oklahoma State University breakaway roper had hopes of earning a spot in the championship round to fight for the title.

She finished 11th in the opening round; only 10 qualify for the short round. She packed up and headed south.

“I didn’t get there in time to see my grandma before she passed,” said Munsell, a senior. “So, I came back this year wanting to win Colby for that reason.”

Taylor Munsell

Taylor Munsell

Mission accomplished. The Arnett, Okla., cowgirl posted a 2.4-second run to win the first round, then followed it with a 2.5-second run to finish second in the short round. The average championship was dedicated to her grandmother.

“She’d been battling heart issues for a long time,” Munsell said. “She was one of the bigger inspirations to my life. She was a tough lady.”

So is her granddaughter, who finished second in the Central Plains Region standings last season and was part of the Northwestern women’s team to compete at the College National Finals Rodeo. After suffering two no-times in Casper, Wyo., this past June, Munsell went back to work for the third round.

“I knew my odds of winning the third round were that much better,” said Munsell, who broke the arena record with a 1.8-second run. “My percentage of catching one was going up by the minute.”

But her record was short-lived. The next day, Whitney DeSalvo beat it by one-tenth of a second. Meanwhile, the Munsell continued to pay close attention and take every lesson offered her in Casper.

“The college finals is an awesome place and really gets you motivated,” she said. “Setting that arena record in that one round gives you a good taste of it, even if it was for just one performance. Now I’m ready to go back and win it.”

She has nine more rodeos in the Central Plains season to earn her way back to the finale. She wasn’t the only Northwestern cowgirl to find some success in northwest Kansas. Bailee Prom placed in both rounds and was fourth in the average, while Ashlyn Moeder earned points by finishing fifth in the short round and average.

For the men, Riley Wakefield placed in both rounds of tie-down roping and finished second overall. While heeling as a team roper, he finished sixth in the opening round while competing with Denton Halford of Southeastern Oklahoma State University.

Tie-down roper Jeremy Carney finished fifth in the opening round. In team roping, Levi Walter and Jayden Johnson finished second in the first round with a 6.8-second run. Although they suffered a no-time in the short round, they still placed fifth in the average. Ethan Price and Bo Youssi placed fourth in the opening round with a 7.3.

Steer wrestler Bradley Ralph finished second in the average after placing in both rounds, but he wasn’t alone. Wacey Dorenkamp and Colt Madison also placed in both rounds and the average; Dorenkamp was third, while Madison was fifth.

“We have a really strong team this year,” Munsell said. “It was a rocky start, but we have a lot of really talented people, so we’re going to make a strong comeback.”

postheadericon Isley’s comedy coming to Duncan

Keith Isley, a six-time PRCA Clown of the Year, returns to the Chisholm Trail RAM Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo as the featured entertainer and barrelman for the regional championship, which takes place Oct. 18-20 in Duncan.

Keith Isley, a six-time PRCA Clown of the Year, returns to the Chisholm Trail RAM Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo as the featured entertainer and barrelman for the regional championship, which takes place Oct. 18-20 in Duncan.

DUNCAN, Okla. – Keith Isley is one of the most decorated clowns in rodeo.

Now Isley will bring his brand of funny to the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 18-Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Stephens County Arena in Duncan.

“I thoroughly enjoy watching people have a good time and enjoy what I do or what I say,” said Isley, 60, now in his 25th year in ProRodeo. “Just seeing people enjoy it and have a good time. Sometimes later in the year, you’ll get home and have some letters for you and have some pictures of you that kids have drawn.

“It’s the little things that really make me feel like I’m accomplishing something.”

He has accomplished much. He’s been named the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Clown of the Year six times, the Coors Man in the Can five times, the PRCA Comedy Act of the Year six times and PRCA Specialty Act of the Year three times. For three straight years, from 2009-11, he won the funnyman’s trifecta: Clown of the Year, Coors Man in the Can and Comedy Act of the Year.

Those are just a few pieces of the puzzle that makes Isley such a commodity. In addition to being one of the best funny men in the business, he also has some of the top acts in rodeo. He’ll bring it all with him when he arrives at the southern Oklahoma.

“I enjoy what I do, and it’s a lot of fun when you’ve got a good crowd and a good announcer,” Isley said, noting that while in Duncan, he will work with Greg Simas, who is calling the action at the Prairie Circuit finals for the third time. “When you see people with smiles on their faces, and then people come up to you and appreciate what you do, that makes what we do a lot more worthwhile.”

Isley sees a lot of smiles and has for much of his professional life. Though he was considered a class clown, being a comedian didn’t come easily.

“Oh, it was natural if I knew you, but if I didn’t know you, it was really hard,” he said. “When I started the comedy, that was really hard for me to get used to because I didn’t know those people watching me.”

He has since overcome his stage fright to become one of the most sought-after entertainers in the game. There’s good reason for it, too. Part of a good clown’s job is to fill any down time that could some during the event. If there’s a pause in the action, Isley knows it’s his turn to step up to the plate.

“I like to play on the crowd,” he said. “I like to have fun with people that like to have fun.”

It works, but Isley has a lot of tricks up his sleeve. He loves working with animals and allowing them to steal the show. When it’s all put together, it’s an award-winning showcase that reaches so many people.

“I’ve undoubtedly been the most blessed man who’s ever bought a PRCA membership,” he said

The fans are pretty blessed, too.

postheadericon D-Camps improving success rate

Students from a recent Bullfighters Only Development Camp in Decatur, Texas, pose for a photo. There will be another D-Camp in Decatur in October.

Students from a recent Bullfighters Only Development Camp in Decatur, Texas, pose for a photo. There will be another D-Camp in Decatur in October.

Freestyle bullfighters gain key tools through the BFO

Every true athlete knows that having a good coach is instrumental to developing the skills necessary to compete.

For the rising stars of Bullfighters Only, that intense training comes in the form of the BFO Development Camps. A quick look at the Pendleton Whisky World Standings reveals just how successful the D-Camps have been, with several graduates showing success including Dayton Spiel, Colt Oder, Chance Moorman, Justin Ward, Andrès Gonzalez, Riley McKetterick and more.

“The camp helped me by beating the fear of going up against a Mexican fighting bull,” said Gonzalez, who attended the D-Camp in San Bernardino, Calif., in the spring of 2017. “It made me more aggressive toward the bulls and taught me techniques as far as throwing fakes and making rounds with a bull.

“Mostly, though, it just helped me be more confident.”

Gonzalez showcased that confidence on Labor Day weekend by winning the BFO stops at both Anaheim, Calif., and Fresno, Calif. He’s just another of the young guns who are bringing their talent to the premier freestyle bullfights in the game. Others will have those opportunities at the upcoming D-Camp in Decatur, Texas, on Oct. 26-28.

“The D-Camps are so impactful; just look at the results we are producing,” said Ross Hill, a BFO pioneer who recently returned from the injured list and is one of the hottest bullfighters in the game this season. “There are no other bullfighting schools putting out bullfighters like the BFO.”

Also in the top 10 in the standings are Ward and Moorman, two more bullfighters who came through this year’s D-Camps. With just two events this season under his belt, Gonzalez has moved to 20th.

“It’s an intense couple of days, and you get to learn from the best, even from your own idols,” he said, noting that his camp in California was taught by Aaron Ferguson, BFO’s founder, and Lance Brittan, the 1999 Wrangler Bullfights world champion. “It makes you want to push even harder and be more intense. You want to show what you’ve got in front of those kind of guys.”

Bullfighters Only also offers something normal camps don’t: It has the full backing and support of Fit N Wise Sports Medicine. The Decatur D-Camp will once again utilize the world-class facilities at Fit N Wise while demonstrating the little things that help make a bullfighter successful.

“One of the key things with the camps is they learn from the best freestyle bullfighters out there,” said Keith Skates, the rodeo sports medicine coordinator for Bullfighters Only and Fit N Wise. “They get to come into our clinic, and we get to expose them to techniques and treatments they haven’t seen before.”

From proper training to nutrition secrets to the types of things the athletes need to do to care for and prevent injuries, Skates and his team take a hands-on approach with the campers.

“They get to work with Clif Cooper, a trainer who knows these athletes,” Skates said of Cooper, a four-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier in tie-down roping. “Clif has been with us for 18 months and is definitely a big asset to our company.

“We’re going to expose them to treatment. The truth is, you’re going to be sore and hurt. So, what are you going to do to get yourself healthy? And what are you going to do to try to keep from getting injured?”

It’s that type of all-encompassing training that makes the BFO D-Camps an important fixture for young talent hoping to make a living in freestyle bullfighting.

“The D-Camp is for the guys that are going to the amateur freestyle bullfights and are wanting to be on the professional tour with the BFO,” Hill said. “Students learn to win at our camps, so basically it’s for the guys that want better results.”

postheadericon Overtime pays off for Schueth

Nebraskan battles through wild card to win Wrangler Tour stop in Lewiston

LEWISTON, Idaho – Beau Schueth fought more bulls last week during the Lewiston Roundup than any other man in Bullfighters Only, and he made it pay off with the BFO Wrangler Bullfight tour victory.

Schueth scored an 85-point bout in the opening round but finished second to Ross Hill, who posted an event-high 91-point fight on opening night. That sent Shueth to Friday’s wild card round, where he scored 83 points to advance to Saturday’s Hooey Championship Round.

Beau Schueth

Beau Schueth

“Ross had a good, clean fight with a hot bull in the first round,” said Schueth of O’Neill, Neb. “If I hadn’t gotten hooked twice, I would’ve had a chance to be closer to Ross, but I’ll take what I got.

“It means a lot to come through the wild card and win. Last year it was just two days, and I won my round, but the highest score got the rifle. I was 89 points on the first day, and Justin Josey fought (2017 BFO Bull of the Year) Sid Vicious the second day and beat me by half a point.”

The Nebraskan now owns the Henry Golden Boy 30-30 rifle, and he’s happy to put it on display in his home. He also pocketed $5,500 and moved to No. 3 in the Pendleton Whisky World Standings. That’s valuable as he makes his late-season chase for the 2018 BFO world title.

The key was having the right bull in the final round. Schueth matched moves with Costa Fighting Bulls’ Portuguese Power for 86 points, edging Hill’s 83 and Josey’s 80 to win the championship.

“That was my third time fighting Portuguese Power,” Schueth said. “I would have been happy with any of those bulls, but it was good to see him. I knew I’d really have to push on him and keep him going. That bull really fired, and we got it pretty close to the chute.

“I’ve been drawing older, smarter bulls that have made me work for it. To put a complete fight together meant a lot and pumped me up.”

His second win of the season came with the appreciation of a packed crowd in Lewiston. Fans have grown fond of the shows that BFO produces. The revolutionary group hosted a successful stand-alone event there in 2017, and the bullfights have been part of the community’s rodeo since 2016.

“Anything with Bullfighters Only is great,” said Kirby Meshishnek, one of the directors for the Lewiston Roundup. “In the three years we’ve had the BFO, we’ve never had a bad night. The crowd loves it.

“BFO adds a different type of Western excitement; it’s an action sport. It brings a different audience to the rodeo. It brings your wild and reckless group, not just your average rancher that loves rodeo.”

postheadericon Sosebee bringing funny to Bellville

Cody Sosebee has had a magnificent last 12 months. He was selected to work the NFR in December and became engaged earlier this year. Now he will be the featured clown/barrelman at the Austin County Fair and Rodeo in Bellville, Texas.

Cody Sosebee has had a magnificent last 12 months. He was selected to work the NFR in December and became engaged earlier this year. Now he will be the featured clown/barrelman at the Austin County Fair and Rodeo in Bellville, Texas.

BELLVILLE, Texas – Much of Cody Sosebee’s life has changed in the last year.

This past December, he worked the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo for the first time in his career. A couple of months ago, he became engaged to Tonya Baumgartner, and now he’s planning a wedding. At least he’s supposed to be helping with it, anyway.

But that won’t deter him from his inaugural trip to the Austin County Fair and Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11-Saturday, Oct. 13, at the Austin County Fairgrounds in Bellville. This is an area where people know rodeo and know what it means to be a cowboy.

He knows cowboy. He’s been one all his life. He may not wear the hat as often, but he understands the Western lifestyle and what rodeo means to a region. Before he began clowning, Sosebee rode bareback horses and has been around rodeo as long as he can remember.

That’s why his selection to work the barrel at the NFR meant so much to him.

“I am very humbled by it, because I automatically thought of the guys who had come before me who had never been selected to work the finals,” he said. “There’s no way to describe it, because the guys voted for it. I can take that with me forever.

“It 10 times everything for me. It was 10 times more work than I thought. It was 10 times more fun than I thought. I just tried to soak it all up. I knew I was getting to do something special.”

Sosebee is bigger than most rodeo clowns, and his raw athleticism shows through the extra cushions his body allows. His acts just accentuate it all into one funny package.

“Having the ability to laugh at myself is probably my biggest strength,” he said. “I don’t take anything too serious. When I’m watching a comedian, the funniest thing I see is when they’re honestly open and having a good time.”

Most importantly, he wants the fans to have a good time.

“I think I bring a sense of energy to an event, and I try to bring a new level of energy,” he said. “I try to bring a high level of energy to your show. I think rodeo competes with other extreme sports, and I think we’re in a class of entertainment like those.

“When people come to an event, they want to see the level of high energy for the entire two hours they’re there, and that’s what I want to give them.”

postheadericon Veteran trending up-Hill

Veteran Ross Hill has put together a string of solid bullfights, reeling off three victories and taking the first-round lead at the Bullfighters Only Wrangler Bullfight Tour stop in Lewiston, Idaho. After suffering a severe knee injury that sidelined him for a year and a half, Hill has returned with a vengeance. (PHOTO BY ROSANNA SALES)

Veteran Ross Hill has put together a string of solid bullfights, reeling off three victories and taking the first-round lead at the Bullfighters Only Wrangler Bullfight Tour stop in Lewiston, Idaho. After suffering a severe knee injury that sidelined him for a year and a half, Hill has returned with a vengeance. (PHOTO BY ROSANNA SALES)

Ross Hill victorious at two Washington Wrangler Bullfight Tour stops

LEWISTON, Idaho – Ross Hill’s comeback is complete.

The Bullfighters Only veteran suffered a devastating knee injury in 2016 that took him out of competition for a year and a half. He returned in July, then promptly won the BFO Wrangler Bullfight Tour stop at California Rodeo Salinas.

He’s competed in three Wrangler Bullfight Tour stops since then, and he’s found his way to Victory Lane in all three rounds. He picked up the Round 1 win with 91 points at the Lewiston Roundup on Wednesday and overall titles in both Kennewick and Ellensburg. He will compete for the Lewiston title on Saturday night.

“I was so ready to fight again that the success is just happening,” said Hill, 35 of Muscle Shoals, Ala. “I thrive on being the best I can be and beating my bulls. Last night and Ellensburg were just perfect bulls for high-scoring fights.”

Last Friday night, Hill earned the Ellensburg title with an agile 86.5-point fight, showing the packed crowd that his knee injury is well behind him. The weekend before in Kennewick, he posted a 77-point score, tying Justin Ward, but Hill earned the title on the tie-breaker with the highest bullfighter score.

“The top of the standings is where everyone wants to be, of course,” he said. “I’m climbing the ladder as fast as possible; I’m just beating my bulls.”

The “Alabama Slamma’” has certainly been on a roll. He has now pocketed more than $10,000 and has moved into the top 10 in the Pendleton Whisky World Standings.

“My goals are the same,” Hill said. “I have a clear, concise vision, and I’m running for it daily and living a dream.”

His recent success on the BFO Wrangler Bullfight Tour is all part of his plan to compete at the BFO Las Vegas Championship, held Dec. 6-15 at Tropicana Las Vegas. It’s BFO’s pinnacle event and features the biggest prize money in the game.

“I’m so excited about Vegas, but right now Lewiston is in my sights,” he said. “I have to keep my focus on one bull at a time.”

postheadericon Stars aligning for Hempstead rodeo

Cory Solomon of nearby Prairie View, Texas, has had considerable success competing at his hometown Waller County Fair and Rodeo. He's won the tie-down roping title and has competed in the Tie-Down Roping Eliminator since its inception. (PHOTO BY JAMES PHIFER)

Cory Solomon of nearby Prairie View, Texas, has had considerable success competing at his hometown Waller County Fair and Rodeo. He’s won the tie-down roping title and has competed in the Tie-Down Roping Eliminator since its inception. (PHOTO BY JAMES PHIFER)

HEMPSTEAD, Texas – “The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas.”

It’s more than the lyrics to a classic Texas song, especially for the organizers of the Waller County Fair and Rodeo, which has three rodeo performances set for Thursday, Oct. 4-Saturday, Oct. 6, at the Waller County Fairgrounds in Waller.

“We work very hard with all aspects of our rodeo to make sure we are drawing the top talent,” said Clint Sciba, chairman of the volunteer rodeo committee. “We introduced our eliminator events a few years ago, and they’ve been a big hit, not only for the people who enjoy our fair and rodeo but for the contestants that come to compete.”

The Tie-Down Roping Eliminator is set for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 2, and will feature four world champions – Tuf Cooper, Shane Hanchey, Marty Yates and Caleb Smidt – as part of it’s eight-man field. Also in the mix are NFR qualifiers Sterling Smith, Blane Cox, Cade Swor and Cory Solomon, the last of whom is from Waller County.

The Team Roping Eliminator will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3, and will feature eight teams, including world champions Joe Beaver, Jade Corkill, Chad Masters and Junior Nogueira. In each event, the slowest time in each round is eliminated. As rounds continue, the field dwindles down until a champion is crowned.

Those aren’t the only special features to the well-recognized rodeo; it also features a special prize given to the all-around champion, who will be awarded a custom-made rifle.

But what may be the biggest incentive to cowboys might be the purse. The fair and rodeo includes $5,000 in “added” money in each event, meaning local dollars are added to the entry fees to make up the purse.

Money doesn’t just help the contestants pay bills and stay on the rodeo trail, dollars equal championship points. That makes money earned go even further. The top 15 on the money list in each event at the end of each regular season advance to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, the sport’s grand finale. The contestant in each event with the most money won in that season will be crowned world champion.

“I came here before it was PRCA sanctioned,” said Sterling Crawley, a four-time NFR qualifier in saddle bronc riding. “When I was in high school, I came here. It’s always been fun. The atmosphere has always been good here, and it’s just gotten better. It’s not far from home, and the horses are usually good, so we want to be sure to compete in Hempstead.”

He and his older brother, Jacobs, have found success at the Waller County Fair and Rodeo more often than not. While Sterling lives in Stephenville, Jacobs lives in Boerne. For both, it’s an easy drive for a chance at good money riding Pete Carr Pro Rodeo bucking horses.

“This is a great rodeo; I love Waller County,” said Jacobs Crawley, the 2015 world champion saddle bronc rider. “It’s got a good turnout, and they’re trying to make it a better event every year. I’m just a fan.

“If the environment’s right, it makes you want it that much more, and that environment is right here. You have a great dance, a great hospitality, and Pete Carr brings great bucking horses.”

Carr has been recognized as one of the elite livestock producers in the game. He’s been nominated five times for PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year, and he’s been associated with the Hempstead rodeo since it has been part of ProRodeo.

Over the last five years, no other contractor has had more animals selected to perform at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. That big for the Waller County Fair and Rodeo. The animal athletes that in Carr’s herd are attractive to the top cowboys who play the game.

Of course, Hempstead’s rodeo is one of the first of the new year. The 2018 regular season concludes the end of September, so cowboys and cowgirls hoping to kick off a solid 2019 campaign make their way to southeast Texas the first weekend in October every year.”

“It’s a little tough to start on something new before you finish what you’ve started,” said bareback rider Steven Dent, an eight-time NFR qualifier from Mullen, Neb. “It feels good to get a good start. This is a good rodeo.”

postheadericon Bellville making its mark in rodeo

The Austin County Fair's rodeo has people talking about it being in contention for medium rodeo of the year in the PRCA. The committee has worked hard to do things right for contestants during the early-season rodeo. Matt Reeves, a six-time NFR steer wrestler, is shown competing at last year's rodeo in Bellville, Texas. (PHOTO BY PEGGY GANDER)

The Austin County Fair’s rodeo has people talking about it being in contention for medium rodeo of the year in the PRCA. The committee has worked hard to do things right for contestants during the early-season rodeo. Matt Reeves, a six-time NFR steer wrestler, is shown competing at last year’s rodeo in Bellville, Texas. (PHOTO BY PEGGY GANDER)

BELLVILLE, Texas – There is a special feeling that happens in the arena at the Austin County Fairgrounds.

There are many adjectives that describe the aura that surrounds one of the best rodeos in southeast Texas each fall, but the cowboys say it best.

“It’s like one of those small-town football games where the whole town comes out and packs it out,” said Jacob Talley, the 2017 Austin County Fair and Rodeo steer wrestling champion from Keatchie, La. “This is my first time, but it’s a good rodeo.”

Look for Talley to return to Bellville during this year’s rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11-Saturday, Oct. 13. He will be among dozens Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifiers who will be part of the world-class event.

For years, Bellville’s rodeo was one of the best-kept secrets in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, but word is spreading. Now there are people talking about why the event could be in the mix for the PRCA’s Medium Rodeo of the Year.

“I think it’s because of the growth it has shown over the past few years,” said John Gwatney, the event’s chute boss from Marquez, Texas. “How do you make one of the best county fair rodeos better? You add to it.

“They’ve got the best personnel in rodeo: Dusty Tuckness, Cody Sosebee, Boyd Polhamus, Sandy Gwatney and Josh ‘Hambone’ Hilton. They’re all award-winners or have been recognized as the best in their area of expertise.”

That’s true. Tuckness is the reigning eight-time PRCA Bullfighter of the Year; Polhamus is a four-time Announcer of the Year; Sandy Gwatney is the 2016 Secretary of the Year; Hilton won the inaugural Music Director of the Year in 2017; and Sosebee was the barrelman at last year’s NFR – he will be the featured clown/barrelman in Bellville this October.

“That rodeo wants to be the best, so they hire the best,” John Gwatney said. “That’s the commitment they’ve made over the last few years. They’ve also increased the prize money, and they have steer roping there, which a lot of rodeos don’t have. It adds to what they want to do to have a professional rodeo in Bellville.”

It’s also one of the first rodeos for the 2019 season, so it’s an important stop for contestants to kick start their chances of having a successful campaign just two weeks after the existing regular season concludes.

“This is a good setup, and the crowd is really good,” said Audy Reed, last year’s bronc riding champion who went on to compete at the NFR for the first time. “You have great hospitality, plus, it’s in Texas, and you can’t beat that.”

Southeast Texas is beautiful in October, with mild temperatures and a chance to be part of a community event. That and the $4,000 in committee money that’s added to the purse in each even are drawing cards for rodeo’s greatest starts.

“We draw top contestants for a lot of reasons, but part of it is because it’s one of the first rodeos of the new season,” John Gwatney said. “A guy can win a big piece of money there and set him up for next season.”

But it goes beyond that. The hard-working committee is made up of volunteers who donate their time and their resources to make the Austin County Fair’s rodeo a big deal, not only to the local fans but also to the contestants that compete for a living.

“One of the biggest things I’ve seen in my time is that they redesigned the arena to make it better for the cowboys and the livestock,” John Gwatney said. “They want to make it better, and they work hard to make it better.

“They used to worry about losing part of the crowd to Friday night football, but they don’t anymore. It’s that good of a rodeo. The school schedules away games on that Friday night, so it just helps the county fair.”

It’s a community that comes together for a common cause, and it reflects in the showcase that is Bellville’s rodeo.

“In the past, I never missed it,” said Richard Durham, a two-time NFR qualifier in team roping-heeling. “It’s just a great rodeo. The committee is great, and it’s a great setup.”

And that’s why there’s a buzz about the Austin County Fair’s rodeo being one of the best events in ProRodeo.

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