BIG SPRING, Texas – Great things happen during the Big Spring Cowboy Reunion and Rodeo.
This year, the volunteers who produce the annual event have designated opening night as a way to give back – to the fans who make the rodeo a success and to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, an endowment that offers financial assistance for contestants sidelined from competition due to injury.
“We’re going to have Thursday be our Dollar Night in memory of Skipper Driver,” said Ace Berry, president of the rodeo committee who is taking the reins from Driver, the longtime leader who died in April. “The Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund was very important to Skipper, so we wanted to do something to honor that. We’re going to take every dollar we get from the gate admission and donate it to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund.”
The 78th Big Spring Cowboy Reunion and Rodeo set for 8 p.m. Thursday, June 16-Saturday, June 18, and some of the top names in the sport will be on hand to compete for the championships. Most know how important the fund is to those who have been away from the arena for an extended time.
“It’s a great organization to prolong and keep the heritage and way of life we live today,” said bareback rider Wes Stevenson, a six-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Lubbock, Texas. “If we didn’t have the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.
“Their slogan is ‘It’s a hand up, not a hand out.’ That describes it as best as any I’ve seen.”
Stevenson has seen those hand ups up close and personal. In 2000, he sustained a severely broken leg – “I almost severed it completely off,” he said. – then re-injured it in 2002. In fact, he had eight surgeries in a two-month span to finally correct the problem; doctors had to take away part of the bone in his leg and then had to stretch what was left to make it the same length as the other leg.
“I had to wear a halo on it for nine months to make that leg the same length as the other one, so I was out all of 2003,” Stevenson said. “At the time, I wasn’t married; I was a college kid, and I was paying for my place and going to school. There was no way I could go to school with all the rehab, and the crisis fund helped me with school and finish my degree while I was away from rodeoing.
“That was a huge benefit to me.”
It’s been a huge benefit to a lot of contestants. The fund was established to help those who compete in the sport full time, since rodeo is their primary form of income.
“They came in and make sure the lights stayed on and the water bill was covered and the mortgage got paid so you didn’t have to worry about that,” said D.V. Fennell, a two-time NFR-qualifying bareback rider from Porum, Okla. “That lets you come out of the injury and not be knee deep into the banker or just behind on a bunch of bills. A guy can just make a strong comeback without having to worry about all that other stuff.
“Anytime people can give to the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, it truly helps the cowboys.”
The Big Spring Cowboy Reunion and Rodeo’s Dollar Night is being underwritten by a number of local sponsors.
“They wanted to be involved in this because they wanted to give back to the community, and they wanted to give to something that meant so much to Skipper,” committeeman Derek Wash said. “This is the perfect way to do it.”