postheadericon Gunderson gunning for national title

Joe Gunderson rides Rafter H Rodeo's Storm Cloud for 84 points Thursday morning to take the first-round lead at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo at the Lazy E Arena near Guthrie, Okla. (JAMES PHIFER PHOTO)

Joe Gunderson rides Rafter H Rodeo’s Storm Cloud for 84 points Thursday morning to take the first-round lead at the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo at the Lazy E Arena near Guthrie, Okla. (JAMES PHIFER PHOTO)

GUTHRIE, Okla. – Joe Gunderson can taste one of ProRodeo’s most prestigious titles.

Now in his seventh trip to the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, Gunderson is ready put a defining statement to a pretty stellar rodeo career by adding the coveted national championship.

“It would be awesome to win this thing,” said Gunderson, a bareback rider from Agar, S.D. “I’ve been here seven times, but I haven’t been able to put it together. I left home wanting it, and I just hope to have a good rest of the week.”

Joe Gunderson

Joe Gunderson

He started pretty strong Thursday afternoon during the first performance of this year’s championship, matching moves with Rafter H Rodeo’s Storm Cloud for 84 points to take the first-round lead. He was one of 12 contestants in each discipline to compete in the afternoon showcase and will watch from the sidelines as the remaining dozen bareback riders tries to better that score.

“I was pretty happy to have him,” Gunderson said of Storm Cloud. “That little sucker bucks. He kind of got me a little out of shape (at the start). It was a fight, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be.

“I had to stay aggressive; you either buck yourself off trying or get bucked off not trying.”

Gunderson has been one of the elite bronc busters in the game for a number of years. He qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2010 and has been on the verge of making it every year since.

“I blew my knee out in 2011 and was close to making it to the finals,” he said, referring to finishing the regular season among the top 15 in the standings in order to qualify for the NFR.

In 2012, he finished 18th; last year he won eight rodeo titles – including the Ram Badlands Circuit Finals Rodeo average championship to earn his qualification to the RNCFR – and finished among the top 30.

“I’d like to ride as long as I can,” said Gunderson, 29. “It’s getting harder and harder to leave home. Increasing the money is great, and it’s great for the sport of rodeo. It lets you live your dream. That’s what everybody wants to do when they’re little, and they’re making it possible.”

Many things are possible for Gunderson. With the lead firmly in place for the first round, he hopes to parlay that into a strong second round and a chance to compete Saturday night for his first national title.

Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo
April 10-12, Guthrie, Okla.
First round leaders

Bareback riding: 1. Joe Gunderson, Agar, S.D., 84 points on Rafter H Rodeo’s Storm Cloud; 2. Morgan Wilde, McCammon, Idaho, 81; 3. Bobby Mote, Culver, Ore., 79; 4. George Gillespie, Placerville, Calif., 77; 6. Kyle Brennecke, Grain Valley, Mo., 75; 6. Evan Jayne, Marseille, France, 72.

Steer wrestling: 1. Will Lummus, Union City, Tenn., 4.1 seconds; 2. (tie) Trevor Knowles, Mount Vernon, Ore., and Nick Guy, Sparta, Wis., 4.2; 4. Bray Armes, Ponder, Texas, 4.7; 5. (tie) Pep Arballo, Wittmann, Ariz., and Sterling Lambert, Fallon, Nev., 4.8.

Tie-down roping: 1. Jesse Clark, Portales, N.M., 8.3 seconds; 2. Shane Erickson, Terrebonne, Ore., 9.0; 3. (tie) Justin Maass, Giddings, Texas, and Tim Pharr, Resaca, Ga., 9.3; 5. Chris Neal, Muldrow, Okla., 9.8; 6. (tie) Caddo Lewallen, Morrison, Okla., and Ryle Smith, Oakdale, Calif., 10.5.

Saddle bronc riding: 1. Jeremy Meeks, Belle Fourche, S.D., 82 points on Korkow Rodeo’s Wiggle Worm; 2. Sterling Crawley, Stephenville, Texas, 80; 3. (tie) Jake Wright, Milford, Utah, and Joe Lufkin, Sallisaw, Okla., 79; 5. Ryan Mackenzie, Jordan Valley, Ore., 78; 6. (tie) Casey Maddox, Wichita Falls, Texas, and Curtis Garton, Lake Charles, La., 73.

Team roping: 1. Nick Sartain, Dover, Okla./Reagan Ward, Edmond, Okla., 4.9 seconds; 2. Ty Blasingame, Sugar City, Colo./J.W. Borrego, Weston, Colo., 5.0; 3. Justin Davis, Madisonville, Texas/Ryan Motes, Weatherford, Texas, 5.4; 4. Jade Stoddard, Rexberg, Idaho/Ike Folsom, Dillon, Mont., 5.6; 5. Jeff Johnston, Thedford, Neb./Levi Tyan, Wallace, Neb., 5.7; 6. Jake Stanley, Hermiston, Ore./Justin Davis, Cottonwood, Calif., 6.1.

Barrel racing: 1. Trula Churchill, Valentine, Neb., 17.31 seconds; 2. Kassidy Dennison, Tohatchi, N.M., 17.35; 3. Gretchen Benbenek, Aubrey, Texas, 17.44; 4. Ann Peterson, Avondale, Colo., 17.48; 5. Nicole Yost, Mt. Morris, Pa., 17.50; 6. Nikki Steffes, Vale, S.D., 17.59.

Bull riding: 1. Reid Barker, Comfort, Texas, 85 points on Silver Creek Rodeo’s Rising Sun; 2. (tie) Cody Campbell, Summerville, Ore., Bobby Welsh, Gillette, Wyo., and Mike Adams, West Grove, Pa., 83; 5. Jeff Bertus, Avon, S.D., 82; 6. Tustin Dave, Lumpton, Ariz., 79.

postheadericon FHSU readies for annual rodeo

HAYS, Kan. – When Bronc Rumford took the job as rodeo coach at Fort Hays State University, he understood the priorities that come with it.

“College is all about education, and our rodeo club and our rodeo team is about motivating kids to get an education,” said Rumford, a Fort Hays State alumnus who has overseen the rodeo program for several years. “We give them the opportunity through rodeo to get their education. That’s what college rodeo needs to be about.”

Bronc Rumford

Bronc Rumford

It also is about competition, which will be a big piece of the Fort Hays State University Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 18, and 1 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 19, at Doug Phillip Arena.

“We have one of the toughest regions, if not the toughest region, in college rodeo,” Rumford said. “The depth of the kids’ talent is phenomenal. In the bull riding, we’ve got Sage Kimzey, who not only leads our region but is also the top bull rider in ProRodeo.”

Kimzey is a student at Central Plains Region rival Southwestern Oklahoma State University, and he’s one of many top hands in the game who are expected to display their talents in Hays over the weekend. So how big is the FHSU Rodeo?

“I think there are a lot of people in town who do not have a grasp of what a big economic impact we have with the college rodeo coming to town,” Rumford said. “If we look at this very conservatively, we will have 2,000 people from outside Ellis County that will be in Hays for four days. It’s huge. There are not that many events that have a bigger economic impact on Hays than the college rodeo.”

It’s also a great opportunity for rodeo club members to learn a little more about the sport than just roping and riding. Each member of the club is required to sell at least $1,200 in sponsorships or advertisements in order to financially support the annual event. In addition, some members of the rodeo alumni organization are sponsors or assist in other ways

“Our alumni has really stepped up and has been a big part of our deal,” Rumford said. “It means a lot to us that our alumni are so supportive.”

But they’re not the only support system for the rodeo club or its annual event.

“We’ve got a tremendous amount of backing from the university,” he said. “I can’t say enough about the backing we get through the Student Government Association, from the president’s office and the maintenance crew. But that’s what we’re used to at Fort Hays.

“While most other institutions’ enrollment has plateaued or even declined, Fort Hays’ enrollment has gone up. When you look at what we have for our rodeo team, it’s amazing. We’ve got the best practice facilities in the region, and we’ve got practice livestock for every event. We’ve got indoor and outdoor arenas for the kids to practice every day.”

Tickets for each of the three performances are $8 for adults, $5 for children in advance, then $12 and $8 at the gate. Besides the performances, the rodeo alumni group will meet prior to the final performance on Saturday night, when the Doc Brower Scholarship will be awarded.

It will be a fitting way to celebrate the 48th year of the Fort Hays State Rodeo.

postheadericon Don’t try to profit off a tragedy

Every news agency I’ve ever been associated with has done some sort of self-promotion.

Ted Harbin TwisTED Rodeo

Ted Harbin
TwisTED Rodeo

Call it marketing. Call it space or time filler. Call it an editorial right to pats one’s self on the back, but it’s been part of presenting news in a competitive market for decades. Metro TV stations are quite possibly the best at it, always plugging that they brought it to you first.

Having a strong marketing campaign is vital to any company’s growth.

But not all news agencies are so reputable. Take this tweet from a Canadian news source: “(Name removed) sets new one day record on tragic rodeo weekend.”

An Alberta teenager was killed Saturday in a wreck that happened inside the rodeo arena. Many who knew the young man mourn their loss. I could tell by the social media posts from my Canadian friends that this was a painful situation. My heart goes out to the boy’s family.

But one news agency was more focused on its record-breaking numbers than it was in actually presenting the news and opinions of the day. “The interest in this rodeo news story has generated over 100,00 (sic) hits and 4,000 visitors …”

This is not a reputable news agency. I hope my Canadian friends realize that and turn to better sources for their rodeo news.

postheadericon Ricky Huddleston 1957-2014

My first day in Las Vegas for the 2001 National Finals Rodeo was frantic.

My editor at The Oklahoman had booked me on a flight that took me from Oklahoma City to Kansas City, then on to Vegas. I arrived at my hotel, quickly unpacked, then took a cab to the Thomas & Mack Center trying to find the office to receive my credentials to cover the NFR for the first time.

Ricky Huddleston

Ricky Huddleston

The process took forever, and I was running to the tiny media room in the dungeon of the storied arena just 15 minutes before the opening ceremonies. My deadline was fast approaching, and I still needed to interview my source, four-time steer wrestling qualifier Ricky Huddleston, who was the event representative that year.

We conducted that interview in the media room while the national anthem played, and I wrote feverishly to get the story turned in by deadline. As always, Ricky was congenial and helpful, and I’ll never forget those hurried moments.

Ricky Huddleston died Saturday, April 6, 2014, of an apparent heart attack. He was 56 years old.

I first saw the posts on social media Sunday morning, and my heart sank. I immediately thought of that quick visit in Sin City a dozen years ago. Over the last day and a half, I’ve thought of several others.

Those are the memories we have when we lose friends. Many lost a good friend Saturday. My heart goes out to them, too.

postheadericon Rangers freshman wins roping title

ALVA, Okla. – Like any freshman, Mason Bowen has learned a lot in the first few months of his college career.

The Northwestern Oklahoma State University cowboy proved this past weekend that his rodeo education is paying off. He won the tie-down roping championship at the Southeastern Oklahoma State University rodeo in Durant.

Mason Bowen

Mason Bowen

“He’s young, and he ropes really well,” Northwestern rodeo coach Stockton Graves said of Bowen. “He finally got something to go for him, and it showed. I knew he’d do well.”

The Bullard, Texas, cowboy won the first round in Durant, then held off a talented group of ropers to claim the average championship. How tough was the competition? Bullard held less than a two-and-a-half-second advantage over fifth place.

“Mason needed a little confidence-booster, and he got it in Durant,” Graves said. “That was a pretty tough calf roping. He won the round and roped really smart in the short round. I’m real proud of him.”

He should be. Bowen is now tied for eighth in the Central Plains Region standings and is within reach of qualifying for the College National Finals Rodeo.

Now the Rangers teams will finish the Central Plains Region season with a flourish of events: this coming weekend is the Southwestern Oklahoma State University rodeo in Weatherford, followed by the Fort Hays (Kan.) State University rodeo and Oklahoma Panhandle State University’s Doc Gardner Memorial Rodeo in Guymon, Okla.

“I’ve told the kids all along that about three good rodeos is all you need to make the college finals,” Graves said. “It’s not going to be easy, but it’s a little simpler than they think. Everybody wants to do good at every rodeo, but the likelihood of that happening is really slim. You just want to give yourself a chance, then capitalize on it.”

Bowen was joined in the championship round in Durant by steer wrestlers Stephen Culling of Fort St. John, British Columbia, (fourth) and Jimmy Hoke of Connellsville, Pa., (ninth); headers Micah Samples of Abilene, Kan., (tied for fourth) and Trey Young of Dupree, S.D., (eighth); heelers Layne Lagasse of Concordia, Kan., (third), Wade Wilson of Laverne, Okla.; (tied for fourth) and Chase Lako of Hunter, N.D. (eighth); and goat-tier Karley Kile of Topeka, Kan., (third).

“It was a little disappointing this weekend, but we’ve got three rodeos left to make up the ground we need to make,” Graves said.

postheadericon Lazy E offers new home to RNCFR

ProRodeo’s National Championship will be played in storied arena for the first time

GUTHRIE, Okla. – ProRodeo’s National Championship has a new home.

The Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo is scheduled for 11 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 10; 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 11; and 1 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, April 12, at the fabulous Lazy E Arena, home of some of the greatest championships ever in rodeo.

Jerome Schneeberger

Jerome Schneeberger

This year’s RNCFR will be a true rodeo showcase, featuring the top two qualifiers in each event from the 12 ProRodeo circuits. From New England to Southern California, this is truly the sport’s National Championship. In addition, it’s three days all wrapped around one of the greatest competitions in rodeo.

With each ticket comes top-level entertainment, including two concerts that will be the perfect curtain call for one of the greatest Western events to hit the Oklahoma City metro area in some time. The Randy Rogers Band will perform at the conclusion of the Friday night performance, while Rodney Atkins will wrap the event Saturday night.

The Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association will conduct a mini convention that weekend, allowing volunteers from rodeos all across the country to gather together and gain important information about ways to make their events better. It also allows hundreds of people to enjoy central Oklahoma and to celebrate rodeo.

Trevor Kastner

Trevor Kastner

Packaged together, it all makes for a spectacular entertainment value for fans. Those who live in Oklahoma will have the opportunity to cheer for their very own, including world champion Nick Sartain and other Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifiers like tie-down roper Jerome Schneeberger, steer wrestler Stockton Graves and bull rider Trevor Kastner.

But there’s so much more. Each of the five performances will feature two world-class rodeo entertainers, specialty act Max Reynolds and clown Keith Isley, the most decorated funnyman in the PRCA. They are an excellent extension to the tournament-style competition that will crown the National Champions in each of the eight rodeo disciplines: bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping (heading and heeling), saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bull riding.

The RNCFR is a magnificent opportunity for weekend warriors – those who have full-time jobs and compete on their time off – to battle with ProRodeo’s elite, those that are regulars at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. This is where cowboys like Oklahoma bareback rider Brian Leddy will test their talents against world champions like Bobby Mote, who owns four bareback riding gold buckles.

The field is stacked with 192 contestants, including a handful of rodeo’s greatest stars in Mote, Jake Barnes, Cody Wright and Sherry Cervi, all of whom own multiple world titles

The Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo is the championship true fans want to see; it’s the championship they deserve to see.

postheadericon Benefit scheduled for bullfighter Pierce

From the CBR

FORT WORTH, Texas – When James Pierce was diagnosed with kidney cancer, members of his bull riding and rodeo family responded with love and prayers. They are taking it a step farther with at the Whybenormal Benefit, set for the afternoon of Sunday, April 13, at the Longhorn Saloon in Fort Worth.

Pierce, of Thibodeaux, La., will have extensive surgery and treatment. The benefit has been organized to help defray medical costs. As a professional bullfighter, Pierce often was asked about his chosen career and answered, “Why be normal?” That has become his moniker, and it’s certain the event will be anything but normal with the entertainment available and items up for bid.

It will cap off a weekend of Western celebrations that includes the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame inductions and the Championship Bull Riding’s Tuff Hedeman Championship Challenge bull riding. Pierce is on the CBR’s arena crew, as is his son, James Pierce Jr.

Doors open at noon, and the benefit will include silent auction will go on throughout the afternoon with a live auction capping off activities starting at 4 p.m. A $10 donation will be requested at the door.

“It’s amazing the items that have been donated and the outpouring of support we’ve had,” said Gary “Roach” Hedeman, who is organizing the benefit with his wife, Cindy. “James has been a good friend, and now it’s our turn to support him.”

Among the live auction items is a pair of green chaps won by legendary bull rider Don Gay when he earned one of his eight world championships. The auction also will be filled with rodeo memorabilia and history, and patrons will have a chance to own one-of-a-kind items like an autographed cover of Life magazine featuring the late Jim Shoulders.

“It’s unbelievable the response we’ve had,” Pierce said. “I can’t thank Roach and Cindy enough for putting this together and everyone else involved. It’s overwhelming and very humbling.”

Pictures of many of the auction items are on the Facebook page, donate auction items, email

postheadericon Locals set stage for Bridgeport rodeo

BRIDGEPORT, Texas – Rodeo excellence and Texas cowboys seem to go hand-in-hand.

That bodes quite well for the Karl Klement Butterfield Stage Days Rodeo set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 9, and Saturday, May 10, at Sunset Retreat Arena, formerly the Bridgeport Riding Club Arena.

Trevor Brazile

Trevor Brazile

Many of the sport’s greatest stars live within a 45-mile radius of Bridgeport, so it is the perfect destination for amazing competition. Just a few miles east sits Decatur, home to 21 world championships between brothers-in-law Trevor Brazile (19) and Tuf Cooper (2).

“We hear that it’s like a hometown rodeo for a lot of these guys,” said David Turnbow, chairman of the volunteer committee that produces the annual rodeo. “Trevor can be here competing, and 20 minutes later, he can be home.”

A season ago, Brazile’s achievements inside Sunset Retreat Arena echoed his 2013 season accomplishments: He won the Bridgeport rodeo’s all-around and steer roping championships to match his 11th all-around world championship and his fourth steer roping gold buckle. He also owns three tie-down roping titles and a heading crown.

Tuf Cooper

Tuf Cooper

Tuf Cooper earned tie-down roping gold in 2011-12. His father, Roy Cooper, is a rodeo legend who owns eight world championships and also lives in Decatur, as do Clif Cooper and Clint Cooper, both of whom are veterans at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

How much talent resides in Wise County? Last December, five Wise County residents competed at the NFR: Trevor Brazile, Clif Cooper, Tuf Cooper, steer wrestler K.C. Jones and barrel racer Shada Brazile, Trevor’s wife and the sister of Tuf and Clif. Three Weatherford residents also competed in ProRodeo’s grand finale: team roper Ryan Motes, tie-down roper Tyson Durfey and saddle bronc rider Bradley Harter.

“You get all those guys coming, and it’s great,” Turnbow said. “You also get some of the younger guys that are coming up, and they want to be part of it, too. It means a lot for our rodeo to have them all here.”

The local competitors are just a small taste of what fans can expect with Bridgeport’s rodeo, which draws many of the sport’s brightest stars. Last year alone, Karl Klement Butterfield Stage Days Rodeo winners included Justin McDaniel, the 2008 world champion bareback rider from Porum, Okla.; Allen Bach, a four-time world champion heeler from Boyd, Texas, roping with his son, Joel.

They were joined in the winner’s circle by several NFR qualifiers, like team ropers Kaleb Driggers of Albany, Ga., and Travis Graves of Jay, Okla.; barrel racer Benette Little of Ardmore, Okla.; and bull rider Trevor Kastner, also of Ardmore.

“Part of what attracts the top cowboys is Pete Carr,” Turnbow said of the rodeo’s stock contractor, which had 27 animals selected to perform at the 2013 NFR. “Without the stock, you’re not going to get the cowboys. The stock makes a lot of difference. Having a good stock contractor is very key to making this thing successful.”

The success will continue this coming May.

postheadericon Champs lead 2014 hall class

From the PRCA

World Champion Cowboys Pete Grubb, Wayne Herman, Glen O’Neill and Byron Walker, along with two-time World Champion Bullfighter Miles Hare and Big Bend Rodeo’s Spring Fling – one of just two horses to be honored as both a bareback and saddle bronc horse of the year – head the 2014 induction class for the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

They will be enshrined Aug. 9 during ceremonies in the sculpture garden adjacent to the Hall, along with the rodeo committees from the Clovis (Calif.) Rodeo, Greeley (Colo.) Stampede, Rowell Ranch Rodeo in Hayward, Calif., and the Snake River Stampede in Nampa, Idaho.

The induction week will kick off with a 35th anniversary celebration of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame on Aug. 6. More information can be found on the PRCA’s website.

postheadericon Can Tierney go two-for-two?

The last time Paul David Tierney performed inside the Lazy E Arena, he won the prestigious Timed Event Championship of the World.

Paul David Tierney

Paul David Tierney

He became just the 12th man in the 30-year history of the event, which identifies the greatest all-around timed-event cowboys in the world. He joins his father, Paul, who owns four TEC titles, and other legends of the game. He also pocketed $60,000 for the three-day championship.

Paul David Tierney returns to the majestic arena next week to try to parlay a significant March into a magical April during the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, which will feature five go-rounds spread out over three days: Thursday, April 10-Saturday, April 11.

Competing as a header, Tierney will rope with Jared Bilby as they battle 23 other teams for the elusive national championship. It will be an exceptional fight. The top two teams from each of the 12 ProRodeo circuits earn the right to play inside the Lazy E.

That’s what makes this such a fun event. Rising stars will tangle with seasoned regional veterans who will battle the biggest names in the game. It’s such a true representation of the sport, and it’s what makes the competition for the national championships so special.