DUNCAN, Okla. – It takes dedicated group and a resounding community effort to pull off a championship-caliber event.
Enter the organizers for the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 16-Saturday, Oct. 18, at the Stephens County Fair and Expo Center in Duncan.
“The core idea that we all had was that we wanted the circuit finals to be a bigger, better, more productive event than what we had ever had here or what the circuit finials has ever been,” said Joe Henderson, chairman of the volunteer committee that produces the annual event. “That’s still our goal.”
This year marks the third straight fall that Stephens County has hosted ProRodeo’s biggest stars from the Prairie Circuit, the rodeo region made up of contestants and events primarily from Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. In order to compete in Duncan, the top 12 cowboys and cowgirls from each event qualify based on how well they performed through the rigors of the 2014 ProRodeo season.
It is the year-end championship for the contestants. The Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo is one of the major driving forces to those cowboys and cowgirls – from full-time rodeo hands to those who have full-time jobs and compete at events closer to home when time allows.
“The circuit finals are a big deal, especially in our circuit,” said barrel racer Tana Poppino, a three-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier and an 11-time circuit finals qualifier from Big Cabin, Okla. “You’ve got the best horses and the best girls out of our area.
“Our circuit is always tough, because we’ve got so many former world champions and NFR qualifiers there.”
The same can be said in every other event that is part of the three-day competition.
“I think we firmly believe we have something special here,” Henderson said. “From a production standpoint, this rodeo means to those contestants as much for most of them that the National Finals would for some of the NFR competitors. This would be like an NCAA regional tournament as compared to a Final Four.
“From a local businessman’s point of view, you have a captive audience for three to eight days. For other rodeos that are in town, you have a captive audience for maybe 12 hours. I think this is a good opportunity for our community and also for the contestants. There is a lot on the table for them all.”
Locals who work hard all year to plan the annual championship see it as a two-fold opportunity: To bring many of ProRodeo’s biggest stars to Stephens County and to provide regional contestants with the perfect home to conduct their annual finale.
“For me, I think it’s important for the contestants to know that they’ve got a place that they’re going to come every year, that they’re familiar with the goings-on and what the committee is doing,” said Sandy Bowden, who, with her husband, Billy Bob, was instrumental in developing the committee. “I think that eases some of the contestants’ minds. They don’t have to worry about it.
“To us, we thought it would be a good idea to bring to the community and, for those who don’t get to go to the NFR, have a premium rodeo for them to watch. The Prairie Circuit is blessed because there are so many guys and girls from our circuit that are the top contestants in the country and go to the NFR every year.”
They know. The Bowdens’ daughter, Shy-Anne Jarrett, has qualified for this year’s circuit finals; her husband, Ryan, is the 2005 all-around world champion and an eight-time NFR qualifier who also has qualified for the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo several times. With attention to the details that are important to both community members and rodeo contestants, the committee puts on a full-court press to impress.
“The committee in Duncan is awesome,” said Poppino, whose son, Brodie, is a steer roping qualifier to both circuit finals and the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping. “That group of people has been on our side of the fence. They know how much it means to the contestants, and they have gone out and made it their top priority to make the circuit finals something that the contestants wanted to get to because they got treated so well.
“It was set up to be the best for the contestants, and I think they have done that.”
It helps to have an amazing facility in the Stephens County Fair and Expo Center.
“It’s an awesome place,” Poppino said. “I don’t believe anybody else is going to get it set up for the contestants like those people have with RV hookups, stalls, a warm-up area and amazing hospitality.
“There are so many events there that it takes a while to build up a big event, but I think the community is learning that this is a big finals. We have a lot of NFR people right here in Duncan.”
The work to make the experience special for everyone involved is done by a small group of people who volunteer to accomplish every task. That selflessness is contagious.
“This committee is so unselfish,” Henderson said. “They won’t take any credit for it, but they deserve all the credit for it. I have the blessing of getting to take credit for all the work that others have done.”