DUNCAN, Okla. – Over the course of his career, Stockton Graves has been one of those cowboys who battled every step of the way to play on the biggest stages of ProRodeo.
Whether it’s qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo or the championship round of the Dodge City (Kan.) Roundup Rodeo, Graves competes for championships. It’s what drives him down the rodeo trail, and he’s happy to do it. And, as always has been the case since he turned pro 15 years ago, winning the regional title is always a priority.
“It’s always been a goal of mine to win the Prairie Circuit,” said Graves, a seven-time NFR qualifier from Newkirk, Okla. “I’ve won the circuit two times, and it’s always a big deal for me to win it. When I first started in the PRCA, I started in the circuit.”
He’s well on his way to a third Prairie Circuit steer wrestling title and qualifying for the Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, set for Oct. 18-20 at the Stephens County Expo Center. He was helped considerably by winning the Buffalo Bill Rodeo last week in North Platte, Neb. Graves placed in both go-rounds and won the average with a two-run cumulative of 8.3 seconds, pocketing $3,077 in the process. That moved his earnings at rodeos in the Oklahoma-Kansas-Nebraska region to $6,136 and atop the circuit’s standings for the first time this year.
“That’s probably the biggest win I’ve had this year,” said Graves, who also is the rodeo coach at Northwestern Oklahoma State University. “My schedule’s slowed down a little bit with the coaching deal, which is a good thing, but this summer we’re going to try to rodeo and set out to make the NFR. If we have a chance to make the NFR, then we’ll go for that.”
Graves is the third bulldogger in the last couple of months to sit atop the circuit standings – two-time world champion Dean Gorsuch of Gering, Neb., led after the first weekend in May, and Sean Mulligan of Coleman, Okla., was the No. 1 man in early June. Graves was certainly thankful for a good run in the Nebraska sandhills.
“I needed it,” he said. “Winning North Platte gets your summer going. It’s nice to get the summer started on a winning note. I’ve won North Platte before, and I won the first round like five years in a row.
“It’s one of the better circuit rodeos, and I always seem to do good there.”
Graves is joined atop the circuit leaderboard by bareback rider Jared Keylon of Uniontown, Kan. ($7,466); team ropers Nick Sartain of Dover, Okla., and Kollin VonAhn of Durant, Okla. ($7,794 each); tie-down roper Hunter Herrin of Apache, Okla. ($11,495); steer roper Cody Scheck of Ellinwood, Kan. ($8,858); barrel racer Tana Poppino of Big Cabin, Okla. ($6,802); bull rider Ty Clearwater of LaCynge, Kan. ($6,019); and saddle bronc rider Jesse James Kirby of Dodge City ($6,651).
Clearwater, though, has just a $5 lead over the No. 2 man, Dustin Elliott of North Platte, who placed third and added $1,728 at his hometown rodeo. Sartain and VonAhn, the 2009 world champions, utilized the $1,362 from North Platte to move into the lead; they finished in a tie for third.
Kirby nearly doubled his circuit earnings last weekend. He won $3,384 in two rodeos – he finished second in North Platte, where he won $1,879, and won the co-approved rodeo in Weatherford, Texas, adding $1,505.
“I was blessed this last week,” said Kirby, who won the circuit finale in 2009. “I started out the week riding Lori Darling of Classic Pro Rodeo, a horse that’s been to the NFR several times. That was probably one of the better bronc rides I have this year. That one will stand out for a long time.
“I went to Coleman (Texas) the next day and placed there, then went to Cleburn (Texas) and placed there. When I got to North Platte, I had Beutler (& Sons) Night Moves. That’s the fourth time I’ve been on him. That was the best trip he’s had with me, and that was the best I’ve rode him.”
That’s the kind of confidence Kirby needs as he gets into the heat of the season.
“It just got the ball rolling, and I hope it continues,” Kirby said.
The big part for all the competitors is to finish the season among the top 12 in the region. That’s because Destination Duncan is an important part of their ProRodeo season, where they can compete for big bucks and Prairie Circuit titles.
“I’m glad Duncan stepped up and invited us there for the finals,” Graves said. “They’ve got a nice facility. My hat is off to Duncan for stepping in there and making it a great championship.”