DODGE CITY, Kan. – Even an old cowboy like Ron Long knows how sentimental he’ll be when he stands at the base of Pikes Peak in Colorado Springs, Colo., on July 14.
“I’ll probably sit up there and cry,” Long said, considering just what it means when his beloved Dodge City Roundup Rodeo is inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. “It’ll be emotional for me. It just thrills me to death that Roundup is part of that hall of fame. I put a lot into Roundup – a lot of hours, a lot of money, a lot of heart and soul. It means a lot to me to get it to that level.”
Long was Roundup’s first president when it bucked its first bareback horse in the summer of 1977 – when 175 contestants battled for a total purse of $8,200. Now Dodge City’s rodeo is one of the largest Silver Level events on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s Wrangler Million Dollar Tour. In 2011, the total payout was $291,961, the 19th best of the PRCA’s 572 rodeos last year.
It’s come a long ways, baby.
“We started with humble beginnings, and now we run with the big dogs,” said Long, 86, now living in Hutchinson, Kan. “That’s what I’m so proud of. All the big rodeos – the Renos and Cheyennes – and we’re right there with them. I am very proud of Roundup.”
The induction takes place in July, just a few weeks before the 36th anniversary of Dodge City Roundup Rodeo, set for 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1-Sunday, Aug. 5, at Roundup Arena. It will be a showcase of ProRodeo’s greatest athletes for five straight nights, but it also will be a celebration of the community’s support of the event.
“It means a lot to me that Dodge City Roundup is getting recognized,” said Jesse James Kirby, a saddle bronc rider from Dodge City. “They’ve been working so hard trying to make it a better rodeo year after year.”
Kirby has seen it all his life. His grandfather, Floyd Kirby, was one of Roundup’s founding members.
“The committee has bent over backwards helping whoever they could and helping the contestants along the way,” Jesse Kirby said. “They take care of everybody. It’s such a fun rodeo and a prestigious rodeo, so that’s an honor itself.
“They still want to get bigger. I’m proud of all of them. I’m proud to be from Dodge City and to be represented by them.”
Like his father and grandfather before him, the younger Kirby has taken great pride in the growth and development of his hometown rodeo. Jesse Kirby began working behind the scenes as a youngster and continued volunteering his time until he became one of the nearly 800 contestants in the field.
“I think it’s great that one of Roundup’s sponsors is Southwest Distributing, which is my major sponsor,” he said. “That’s something that’s really cool for me.”
That type of support wasn’t always there for rodeo in the southwest Kansas community. Over the years leading up to the mid-1970s, Long and others failed numerous times to kick-start an annual event.
“We were persistent,” he said. “We had a few real dedicated people. Everything in life is timing. We happened to hit it at the right time.”
From Jim Williams to Floyd Kirby to Rich Guthrie to Ted Webster to Tom Shirley, the support began to grow.
“We made it work,” Long said. “That was the kind of dedication we got from people.”
More got involved as the years rolled on. Now it takes teams of volunteers – “I’d say between 200 to 300 people,” Long said – to make sure everything runs smoothly over the course of the week-long competition. Civic organizations step in, helping park cars to running concessions to selling seat-backs, etc.
“That’s the kind of manpower you can’t buy,” Long said. “If you don’t get volunteers, there’s no way you can hire that many people to put it on. Since we got started and it’s been successful, people want to help you. When we started, we had to beg and plead to get some help, and now they want to volunteer.
“Of course, you have to make it a way for those civic organizations to make money, too, because they’re giving back to the community as well. Without them, it doesn’t work. It takes dedication and community involvement.”
And everybody sees it, from the contestants and personnel to the sponsors and fans.
“I think Dodge City is as deserving as any rodeo out there to be inducted into the hall of fame,” said Jerry Norton, now in his 20th season fighting bulls at Roundup Rodeo. “They have left a legacy and a mark on the rodeo world, setting standings and always progressing forward.
“They’ve been the leaders in setting trends. They were one of the very few rodeos that had a hospitality area for the cowboys, for providing amenities and services to the contestants.”
Maybe it’s because former cowboys like Long were part of Roundup from the beginning that those details weren’t overlooked. He competed in every rodeo event imaginable, but he focused on bull riding much of his time in the arena. When he was done competing in the 1950s, he still kept that passion for the sport close to his heart.
“I’ve been the luckiest guy in the world,” he said. “I’ve been so lucky with the things I’ve done and the people I met. If I don’t wake up in the morning, don’t sing any sad songs for me, because I’ve had a great life.”
That’s why Dodge City Roundup’s induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame is so special to Long. That’s why he’ll be in Colorado Springs for its enshrinement and why he’ll likely shed a tear or two during the ceremony.