BRIDGEPORT, Texas – For most associated with the sport, the hometown rodeo is a chance to compete in front of family.
It’s a wonderful benefit to the band of gypsies that make a living on the rodeo trail. You see, rodeo cowboys and cowgirls travel more than 100,000 miles a year plying their trade. They ride, rope, wrestle and race for paychecks, whether the competitions are in Pendleton, Ore., or Arcadia, Fla.
The Coopers and Braziles are different than most. When they show up to compete, it is a family reunion. Clint, Clif and Tuf Cooper are brothers who live in Decatur, Texas, just a stone’s throw from the Butterfield Stage Days PRCA Rodeo in Bridgeport. Clif and Tuf’s half-sister is Shada Brazile, one of the top barrel racers in 2013 and the wife of 17-time world champion Trevor Brazile. They live near Decatur, too.
Nonetheless, they’re excited to return home for the Bridgeport rodeo, which will have performances at 7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, May 10-11, at Bridgeport Riding Club Arena.
“Every year I’ve had my card, I’ve been to that rodeo,” said Tuf Cooper, the two-time reigning world champion tie-down roper and one of three sons born to eight-time world champion Roy Cooper. “For me, everybody in my family is at every rodeo we go to, but Bridgeport is a great spot. For a lot of my friends who don’t get to see me rope, it’s easy access for them to watch me rope. I’ll get a lot of my friends there, where they don’t get to see me very often.”
Butterfield Stage Days is a local celebration for many of ProRodeo’s greatest stars. In addition to the Braziles and Coopers, Wise County is home to National Finals Steer Roping qualifiers Will Gasperson of Decatur and Jarrett Blessing of Paradise. It’s also in proximity to bareback rider Matt Bright, a three-time NFR qualifier from Azle, Texas, and saddle bronc rider Bradley Harter, a seven-time NFR qualifier from Weatherford, Texas.
“I like that rodeo because it’s the closest ProRodeo to our hometown, and the people of Brideport are so welcoming and try so hard there,” said Shada Brazile, one of the top 10 barrel racers in the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association the end of March. “They usually have really great ground, which is always a plus in my event.
“When you’re this close to home, your horses are more rested, and you’re more rested. We travel just 15 minutes to get to the rodeo. That never happens.”
Bridgeport is a vital rodeo for Trevor Brazile. It’s one of the few rodeos in this area that allows him the opportunity to compete in all three of his events. He is one of two men who have qualified for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s National Finals in all four roping disciplines, joining Dale Smith in making it in heading, heeling, tie-down roping and steer roping. In addition to his 10 all-around gold buckles, Trevor Brazile owns one heading, three steer roping and three tie-down roping world titles.
“That makes Bridgeport even more important to Trevor because he is able to go in all three events,” Shada Brazile said. “The time of the year is really good for us. We’ve been gone, and we’re home that time of year anyway. It’s a great run right before we have to get ready for the summer.”
Unlike all-around talent Trevor Brazile, Blessing and Gasperson focus on steer roping. Both have qualified for the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping three times, so they know what it means to be among the elite in their chosen profession. They also know what it means to compete at their hometown rodeo.
“Being closer to home is always better,” said Gasperson, who qualified for the finals in 2003, ’08 and ’11. “Anytime we can get a rodeo in this area that has steer roping, it brings in a lot more contestants. It’s a lot better for us, because we don’t have the fuel expense.
“Bridgeport the last three years has gotten to be a good rodeo, especially for that time of year. For us that are from around here, you’re going to draw y our family and friends, which is going to make the rodeo bigger. I think that’s going to make the rodeo that much better.”
Blessing, a teacher at McCarroll Middle School in Decatur, adores the idea of traveling just seven miles to compete.
“It’s huge,” said Blessing, who qualified for the NFSR in 2002, ’05 and ’07. “I’m really glad the people in Bridgeport have a ProRodeo and steer roping. For steer ropers, we’ll have to travel all over the country to just compete, and we don’t have a lot of real close ones. It’s nice that they can have steer roping in Bridgeport. There are a lot of guys in this area that compete in that.”
Blessing is ranked among the top 10, and he’d love to stay there in order to compete in the finale in November. That’s a tough road to travel, especially considering he has a full-time job in the Decatur Independent School District.
“I need to have the year I’m having right now,” he said. “This year’s been really good, and my horse is working really good. I’ve only been to four rodeos, but I’ve won money at all four of them.”
The key in rodeo is to take advantage of situations as they arise. While cowboys and cowgirls pay a fee in order to compete at every rodeo, only the very best walk away from the arena with money.
“I think it’s great that people from so close to home will get together and have a good rodeo for us cowboys to make some money,” Tuf Cooper said. “When they do that for us, it makes it a good rodeo for the fans.”