GUYMON, Okla. – Every elite athlete can point to their early development as a starting point to excellence.
For six of the qualifiers to last season’s Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, their foundation was laid in No Man’s Land with their education at Oklahoma Panhandle State University. From world champions like Jeff Willert and Taos Muncy to veterans like Tana Poppino to up-and-coming stars like Seth Glause, Ardie Maier and Cort Scheer, their 2010 seasons were rewards for work that began around Goodwell, Okla., home of one of the premier collegiate rodeo programs in the country.
“It dang sure is a big deal to go to school there and to do well in rodeo,” said Scheer, 24, of Elsmere, Neb., one of three saddle bronc riders to play on the sport’s biggest stage. “When you look at the people who have gone to school there and done well in ProRodeo, it’s a big deal.”
So is the NFR, which takes the top 15 contestants in each event for the season-ending championship. Scheer had the best run of the Panhandle contingent, placing in seven of 10 go-rounds, winning the ninth round and pocketing more than $70,000 during his two-week stay in Las Vegas. All that catapulted Scheer to fourth in the world standings and earnings of better than $152,500.
But that’s in the past, and the future is what’s most important in ProRodeo. That’s why the six NFR qualifiers are already looking forward to getting together the first weekend in May for a little Panhandle State reunion during the Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 6; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 7; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 8 at Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena.
“That’s just a great rodeo, and it’s one everybody wants to win,” said Muncy, world champion saddle bronc rider. “You always enjoy coming back for the rodeo, but you also want to win it.”
Muncy knows all about that. He won the Guymon title in 2007, the year he won the college and world championships. This past season, he placed in three NFR go-rounds and walked away from the Thomas & Mack Center with $23,444. He finished the year ranked No. 9 with more than $122,000.
But he’s not the only Panhandle State alumnus to have earned that coveted belt that goes to the Guymon champion. Last season, Poppino won the barrel racing crown for the first time in her storied career.
“It feels good to come to this rodeo and do this well,” said Poppino, a three-time NFR qualifier. “This is a really tough place to win because there are so many great girls here. It’s nice to be able to win this one.
“I ran at Guymon’s rodeo while I was still in college and it was just a little rodeo, so it is great to finally win it.”
In Las Vegas this past December, Poppino placed in both the first and second go-rounds, but that was it. She finished with $11,863 in NFR earnings, but it didn’t take away from the phenomenal season that took her to the championship. Besides winning in Guymon, the Big Cabin, Okla., cowgirl also won in Fort Worth.
Wins at big rodeos like Guymon and Fort Worth are a key ingredient in remaining one of the elite contestants in their event. For Willert, the 2005 world champion bronc rider from Belvedere, S.D., big rodeos were instrumental in his qualifying for his sixth trip to the NFR. He won events in Greeley, Colo., and Tucson, Ariz., then finished the season No. 12 in the world standings.
Glause competed in ProRodeo’s grand finale for the second time in his career. A bull rider from Rock Springs, Wyo., the 22-year-old Glause knows just how tough the NFR can be. He placed in just one go-round and left Las Vegas with just $3,672 in earnings. Still, he finished 15th in the world standings and has earned the respect of thousands of other bull riders who have never made it that far.
Until 2010, Maier was in that group, even though he’s been considered one of the top bull riders in the game. Maier, of Timber Lake, S.D., parlayed wins in San Antonio; Fort Madison, Iowa; St. Paul, Ore.; and Union, Ore., into his first NFR qualification.
“That was the best year I’ve had,” Maier said.
Maier rode just two bulls, but he won the final go-round. That’s a pretty nice precursor to kick-starting the new year.
“I didn’t have the greatest finals, but I thought it ended good,” he said. “It felt good.”
And that’s the kind of feeling he hopes will carry him to a second straight trip to the NFR. He knows being consistent is important, just like it was a decade ago when he was part of the Panhandle State rodeo team.
“I always like going back to Guymon, because it’s a great rodeo and you get to see a lot of friends,” Maier said. “One of the years when I was going to school there, I placed in bareback riding in Guymon.
“I’d love to do good in Guymon. I’ve never won Guymon. I’ve ridden some bulls there but never did win it. It’s sure one I’d like to win.”