Provided By The PRCA for Media Purposes
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Stars converged Saturday as the 2023 ProRodeo Hall of Fame class was immortalized.
Steer wrestler Luke Branquinho, a five-time PRCA World Champion, headed up a star-studded 2023 induction class for the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
Branquinho is joined by two-time PRCA World Champion Saddle Bronc rider Cody Wright (2008 and 2010), PRCA World Champion Team Roper Doyle Gellerman (1981), pickup man Kenny Clabaugh, rodeo notables Butch Knowles and Tom Feller and standout bareback horse Nightjacket, rodeo committees from the St. Paul (Ore.) Rodeo and Cowtown Rodeo in Pilesgrove, N.J., and barrel racer Sherry (Combs) Johnson, the 1962 WPRA World Champion and WPRA notable Fay Ann Horton Leach.
The 2023 Ken Stemler Pioneer Award, which recognizes those who have provided groundbreaking, innovative ideas and forward thinking that help the development, advancement, and success of the PRCA and or the Hall of Fame and their missions is being awarded to Bryan McDonald, former bull rider and National Finals Rodeo judge. His foresight on day money and work with PROCOM have set the industry apart.
Branquinho is now a Hall of Famer
Branquinho, who was known for his booty shake, qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo 14 times – 2001-04, 2006-15 – and won the average three times in 2008, 2011 and 2014. He has the record for most NFR rounds won by a steer wrestler at 25.
“I don’t even know if words can describe it,” Branquinho said. “A guy starts his rodeo career just wanting to be the best that he can and win a world championship and to win five is pretty special. Then to be able to consider myself as one of the greatest with what you guys are saying being inducted into the Hall, I don’t have words to describe it. Some of my heroes are in there obviously, John W. Jones Jr. and John W. Jones Sr., and a lot of the California cowboys that helped put ProRodeo on the map and to be able to be in that Hall with them is very special.”
Branquinho was still digesting that he was being immortalized as one of rodeo’s greats.
“To be in the same building as the legends of the sport is still a little bit surreal, that I’m going to be in there with them,” Branquinho said. “When a person starts this journey of rodeo, being a hall of famer is not necessarily the goal. You just try and go out there and win as much as you can and support your family and hopefully at the end of the day you are called a great champion and to be put in the Hall of Fame, that means you accomplished all that and more.”
Although Branquinho had countless memorable rodeo moments – he pinpointed living the life of a PRCA cowboy is what he enjoyed most.
“The memories going down the road is something I will never forget,” Branquinho said. “When you’re rodeoing, the people you meet, and the friends you are traveling with they become your family. No matter what part of the country you are in you can pick up a phone and get help if you need it. Running in the Thomas & Mack and looking up and seeing the family that supported you 365 days out of the year to try and achieve those goals and being able wave to them after the 10th round knowing you just accomplished something very few people do is incredible.”
Cody Wright still can’t believe he got HOF call
The Wright family has been the gold standard for PRCA saddle bronc riding for years.
That excellence guided Cody Wright, a two-time PRCA World Champion in 2008 and 2010, into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“It is pretty unbelievable to be put into something like this with all the other guys who are in there and it’s crazy that I will be added to them,” Wright said.
Wright never saw the ProRodeo Hall of Fame as the end goal.
“I never did see this happening for me,” Wright said. “I never imagined all this was going where it was going. I was just a young kid with dream. I just wanted to rodeo and have fun and it has turned into so much more.”
Wright comes from the storied Wright family of saddle bronc riders as his brothers Jesse (2012) and Spencer (2014) also won PRCA World Championships as have his sons, Ryder (2017 and 2020) and Stetson (2021). Stetson has won a total of seven world championships – four in all-around (2019-22), two in bull riding (2020 and 2022) and one in saddle bronc riding in 2021. His youngest son Statler Wright is in his second year on his PRCA card, and his career has been highlighted by two wins at the storied Reno (Nev.) Rodeo in 2021 and 2022.
“Being able to do this with my family has probably been the most memorable thing and watching all their accomplishments along with all of mine,” Cody said. “There’s nothing better than to see your kids and your family do great as well. I always feel like the better they do, the better I do.”
Gellerman honored to be part of ProRodeo Hall of Fame
Doyle Gellerman has been a staple in the team roping world for the last 40 years and will now forever be enshrined as an inductee into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
“It has sunk in all right and it sunk all the way in when it happened (July 15),” Gellerman said. “This is something I never thought would happen to me. I never thought I would ever be going into the Hall of Fame, but here I am going in and what a great honor. It means the world to me.”
In 1981, Gellerman, a header, roping with partner Walt Woodard, shared the team roping world championship. Gellerman and Woodard each ended the season with $48,818 – back when only one team roper typically earned a gold buckle. Not until 1995 were separate PRCA header and heeler world championships awarded.
The title fulfilled a dream for Gellerman.
“I would have to say winning the world championship and the friendships I have,” Gellerman said when asked of his fondest rodeo memories. “I probably had 400 or more text messages or calls from people who I met from rodeo congratulating me. Winning the world championship was my main goal. I did want that one.”
Just a few years before Gellerman and Woodard were the 1979 co-reserve world champions. Gellerman was also reserve world champion in 1990, and he was the 1995 header reserve world champ.
He qualified for the National Finals Rodeo 25 times, the fifth most by any team roper in PRCA history. 12 of those selections came while Gellerman and Woodard were roping together from 1977-85 and they teamed up again from 1992-94.
Kenny Clabaugh realizes HOF induction
Kenny Clabaugh has always been known for helping others, whether that was inside the arena or out of it.
By nature, Clabaugh wasn’t about the spotlight at all, hence his nickname “The Invisible Man.” He didn’t seek attention nor boast about his accomplishments throughout the years. That was just who he was.
However, after being selected as a pickup man for the National Finals Rodeo seven times, he didn’t go unnoticed by the ProRodeo Hall of Fame selection committee. Clabaugh got the call of a lifetime from the ProRodeo Hall of Fame and was inducted Saturday.
“Oh my gosh, this means everything,” Clabaugh said. “I’m still in a state of shock. I never thought I would ever be close (to being in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame).”
Clabaugh was selected to work the NFR in 1983, 1986-88, 1990-91, and 1994. He had the opportunity to pick up a handful of guys who are already in the Hall and even one joining him in 2023. The honor makes him only the second pickup man to ever be inducted, joining Charles “Lefty” Wilken, who was inducted in 1999 after 10 trips to the Finals.
The Wyoming cowboy worked many rodeos throughout his ProRodeo career, which came to an end in 2000. He was a pickup man at the Black Hills Stock Show and Rodeo in Rapid City, S.D., with partner Steve Sutton for nearly 30 years.
“The people, the rodeos, the cowboys, it was all good,” Clabaugh said. “The key for me was I had good partners and good horses.”
Knowles immortalized forever in Hall
The voice of Butch Knowles is one of the most recognizable in the sport of rodeo.
Knowles has been in the broadcast booth for every National Finals Rodeo dating back to 1988. His dedication to the sport is one of a kind. His longevity and love for rodeo was recognized by the ProRodeo Hall of Fame selection committee as he was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“When I got up here (in Colorado Springs) it hit me like a ton of bricks,” said Knowles about the realization he was going into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. “This is just crazy. I kept waiting for them to call me and say they made a mistake we thought you were Butch Myers or something, but they never called. It’s just crazy. It is nothing you ever think about. When you start out, this is the last thing anybody ever thinks will happen. It is so humbling.”
Knowles may be going into the Hall as a rodeo notable, but he’s known for his work inside the arena as well. He qualified for the NFR in saddle bronc riding in 1981, 1983, and 1986-87. He also won the NFR average in 1987. He said being a Hall of Famer is something that never crossed his mind while riding or announcing.
“The one thing that stands out and it just happened after they announced my induction is all the people who I haven’t seen for years who have wrote nice notes and congratulated me,” Knowles said. “When it is all wrapped up and done, I don’t think there’s any better lifestyle or people to be around than who we deal with on a daily basis. It is amazing.”
Years of rodeo commitment land Feller in Hall Of Fame
Tom Feller’s passion and decades of commitment and loyalty to ProRodeo were immortalized on Saturday when he was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame as a notable.
“It’s one of those things that you can’t believe you’re worthy of really,” Feller said. “It’s overwhelming to me, especially with the category I’m going in with. When they put your name next to guys like Benny Binion, Mel Potter, or Michael Gaughan it’s truly remarkable. I don’t feel I belong with that group because I admire them so much. The things they’ve personally done for rodeo are so incredible.”
Feller is a cowboy through and through. His loyalty to the sport of rodeo and his commitment to ProRodeo programs such as the Justin Sportsmedicine team, the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund and Chairman of the PRCA Board Directors gained him entrance into the Hall.
When Feller obtained his PRCA card in 1974, his highest aspiration was possibly to clown at the National Finals Rodeo someday.
He realized that dream when he was chosen as a barrelman at the National Finals Rodeo in 1981 and was an alternate in 1976, 1982, and 1985. He was also chosen as the PRCA Clown of the Year in 1981 and 1987. For years, Tom worked as a bullfighter with his brother Jim Bob Feller. Tom also wrote a column for the ProRodeo Sports News back in the day.
Tom was born Sept. 10, 1948, in Waco, Texas. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps. After his rodeo career, Feller has served as the director of event marketing for Justin Brands for more than two decades.
Feller, who “rodeoed before sports medicine,” said the Justin SportsMedicine team can’t prevent a cowboy from getting hurt, but they can educate them about how to prevent injuries and can get them back in the saddle again.
“Looking back on my life in rodeo, it just makes me realize I was probably put here for a purpose,” Feller said. “That was to not only be a steward of Justin Brands and the western way of life, but to be a steward to the (Professional Rodeo Cowboys) Association. I’m forever grateful for that.”
Nightjacket forever enshrined
Stock in the sport of rodeo is never undervalued. You could make the argument the roughstock animals and timed-event horses are just as important to success as the athletes that compete on them.
With that being said, there have been 38 animals selected to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame since the first induction class in 1979. That number will rise to 39 in 2023 as the famous “Nightjacket” raised by Jim and Maggie Zinser, who founded J Bar J Rodeo Company, will be inducted into the Hall.
Nightjacket competed at every Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as a bareback horse from 2000-2007. During that time, the horse helped six different cowboys reach the pay window in Las Vegas.
Even with Nightjacket’s success inside the arena, the horse may be more known for his star-studded offspring. Moving from J Bar J to Pickett Pro Rodeo, NFR bucking horses like Fringe Jacket, Straight Jacket, and Night Gazer are direct descendants of Nightjacket.
Even with Nightjacket’s passing in 2013 at the age of 19, many more of his offspring are lighting up the ProRodeo ranks as we speak, carrying on this once-in-a-lifetime horse’s legacy.
Cullen Pickett, who bought Nightjacket in 2009, said the horses’ bloodlines took their bucking stock to the next level. Now, those bloodlines will never be forgotten as an inductee into the Hall of Fame.
“He (Nightjacket) never had a day off. He always showed up and it’s been the same thing with his colts. His colts are just the ones you can count on. It doesn’t matter the arena or the situation. Nightjacket had a great bucking career himself, but his legacy will forever be remembered in the stock that’s come from him.”
Jim Zinser was thrilled to see Nightjacket enshrined.
“Going into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame is such an impressive honor,” Zinser said. “It’s a special accomplishment that means a lot to my family and I.
“In 1970, I had a man call me that I knew and rodeoed some. He had a riding stable in the Detroit (Mich.) area. He said I have this big brown mare that’s just throwing everybody off and I think she would work for you. I said you know I’ll take a chance on her. We started rodeoing with her and I really couldn’t believe how good this horse was. To this day, I’m going to say she is definitely in the top three or four for horses that have ever been on this ranch in 40 years. That horse ended up being Nightjacket’s grandmother.”
Zinser gushed about the talent of Nightjacket.
“You couldn’t believe how good Nightjacket was in the arena, but then when we started breeding him and we were just amazed at how good the colts really were.
“I think Nightjacket is definitely more known for his offspring than his bucking career. I might be a little bit biased, but I think he is definitely right there as one of the all-time great producing stallions in the sport of rodeo. He’s produced four world champion bucking horses. Dirty Jacket won it twice, Big Tex, and Deuces Night. Plus, he has had 60 of his genetic offspring at the NFR, where they have won over $2 million on them alone. This is a once in a lifetime line of genetics in the sport of rodeo.”
St. Paul Rodeo takes its place in HOF
For decades, the St. Paul Rodeo has been known as one of the most unique and finest rodeos on the PRCA trail.
The success of the rodeo hasn’t gone unnoticed as the St. Paul Rodeo Committee was inducted in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame on Saturday.
“We have 11 members on our board right now and six out of the 11 are grandsons or great-grandsons of our rodeo founders from 1936,” said Kevin Smith, the vice-president of the St. Paul Rodeo Committee. “The rodeo really is a family and community tradition that runs deep. I think it means even more to us because of the family connections. When I got the call from the meeting room that day I kind of felt like two other generations were with me right then and there.”
St. Paul, Ore., with a population of less than 450, is in the heart of the Willamette Valley, 20 miles from Salem, the state capital.
From those roots, the St. Paul Rodeo is going strong as ever. In 1991, the PRCA cowboys gave the St. Paul Rodeo a plaque proclaiming it the finest rodeo in the Northwest.
“We are receiving this honor because of the dedication of not only our staff and the people that have come before us, but our special community over the last 87 years,” Smith said.
Cowtown Rodeo enters ProRodeo Hall of Fame
The storied history of the Cowtown Rodeo in Pilesgrove, N.J., was rewarded at the highest level as it was enshrined into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
“It didn’t set in that we are going to become the newest members of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame until we stepped foot in Colorado Springs,” Cowtown Rodeo’s Betsy Harris said. “That’s when the reality set in for all of us.
“The first thing we thought about when we found out was Grant’s (Harris) Dad Howard. We think back to the work he did for rodeo. Now, that we’ve been here for 45 years that in itself is remarkable. You don’t think that you’ll ever do anything that long. When it’s your life and it’s a joy everyday like it is for us and now that our children are still involved there’s nothing better. It’s the best way to live.”
Cowtown has held rodeo competitions in Salem County, N.J., nearly every week since 1955, rain or shine. The only exceptions were six Saturdays at the start of the pandemic in 2020.
Cowtown is known as the oldest weekly professional rodeo in the United States. The rodeo runs each year from Memorial Day to the end of September each summer.
Cowtown Rodeo was started in 1929 by Howard Harris Sr. and his son, Howard “Stoney” Harris Jr. Stoney held the first rodeo in Woodstown N.J., in conjunction with the Salem County Fair, at the original auction grounds on North Main Street.
Presently this ground is known as Harris Acres, with the back stretch of the racetrack now being the Presbyterian Church on Auburn Road. The rodeo was held annually during the County Fair until 1938. World War II caused the rodeo to be put on hold until 1955 when Howard “Baldy” Harris, Stoney’s son, came back from the University of Idaho carrying the 1954 National Intercollegiate All-Around Rodeo Championship saddle.
Cowtown Rodeo was – and is – known nationwide due to live national TV exposure in 1958 & 1959 and taped exposure nationwide in 1969 and 1970. The rodeo outgrew the original arena and in 1967 built the present 4,000 seat arena.
Barrel racer Sherry Combs Johnson joins her sister, & her horse in HOF
Combs Johnson joins the Hall of Fame alongside her world champion horse Star Plaudit “Red,” who was inducted in 2017 and her sister Florence Youree, who was inducted as a notable in the 2019 Class.
“When my horse Red went in it was great because I knew he was so worthy,” Combs Johnson said. “People have called me a legend this weekend, I’m not a legend. I’m just a person that did what they wanted to do and was able to do.
“I’m tickled beyond words and blessed to be included in this Hall, but I never thought I’d be here. Now, to join my horse and my sister, it’s truly special, it really is.”
Born Aug. 16, 1938, in Duncan, Okla., Johnson has made her home in Addington, Okla. During her career she qualified for 12 National Finals Rodeos, the first coming in 1959 at the first GRA (predecessor to the WPRA) Finals in Clayton, N.M. and the last in 1991 under the bright lights of Las Vegas at the Thomas & Mack Center, a span of four decades (1959-68, 1970, 1991).
She won her first WPRA world title in 1961 in the all-around category, but the highlight of her career would come in 1962 when she won the barrel racing world title aboard Star Plaudit “Red.”
Johnson made her mark in the National High School Association as well, winning the all-around title, barrel racing and breakaway roping titles in 1955.
Johnson gave back to the WPRA, serving on the Board of Directors from 1963-1971, including a stint as the Vice President. She was named Coca-Cola Woman of the Year in 1997 and was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in 2005.
“When I got my card and went to the first NFR in Clayton (N.M.), I would have never dreamt of this day and what the Association has become,” she said.
Fay Ann Horton Leach’s years of dedication to rodeo put her in Hall
Fay Ann Horton Leach was one of the founding members of the Girls Rodeo Association.
Leach’s devotion to the sport has not gone unnoticed as she was inducted as a notable in the 2023 ProRodeo Hall of Fame class in Colorado Springs.
Leach led the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA-now WPRA) as a founding member, competitor, and board member. One of the 38 women who met in San Angelo, Texas, on Feb. 28, 1948, to form the very first professional sports association created solely for women by women.
“It didn’t set in for a long time that I was going to be a Hall of Famer,” she said. “I can’t really understand why I’m being inducted because all I’ve ever done is just work hard in my everyday life. But I’m really thankful for it I can tell you that. I think one of the things that I appreciate the most was getting to travel the country and meeting a lot of wonder people that are still really close friends of mine.”
Leach never won a world title in the barrel racing, but she qualified for nine consecutive NFRs (1959-1967). She would finish third in the world in 1962 behind Sherry Johnson, a fellow 2023 ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee, and Wanda Bush.
Like many cowgirls during this era, they competed in many different events with calf roping being one of Leach’s favorites. In fact, she broke her mentor’s streak of six consecutive titles in the calf roping when she beat Bush for the world title in 1957. She would add three more of those titles in 1959, 1963 and 1971. She won the all-around in 1960, the flag race world title in 1964 and one that might surprise everyone was her bull riding title in 1966.
In 1967, Fay Ann married Billy Leach, who competed in the RCA roping calves and steer wrestling. Together they founded Billy Leach Ropes.
In 2011, she was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame under the category of Trailblazers and now she is immortalized in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame for her dedication to building a strong foundation for women in rodeo.
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