Panhandle shines during NFR

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Guymon-born Cole Franks rides Frontier Rodeo’s Gun Fire during the fifth round of the 2022 National Finals Rodeo. Franks finished second in the NFR average and earned about $150,000 in 10 days.

GUYMON, Okla. – Folks in this part of the world understand the life and legacy of the cowboy.

The rugged terrain that makes up the Plains states can be harsh and unyielding. It takes stout men and women who can handle challenges in order to tame this land while raising the feed that feeds a country, which is why cowboys remain a vital part of the landscape in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

As it has happened for 91 years, that legacy will be honored and revered during the Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 5; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 6; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 7, at Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena. Not only is it Oklahoma’s richest rodeo, but it’s the only PRCA event in the Sooner State that has been inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

Because of all its credentials and its attractiveness to the sport’s biggest stars each year, there’s something about the area formerly known as “No Man’s Land” that hits a trigger when talking about rodeo. Since the National Finals Rodeo was first established in 1959, only two Guymon-born cowboys have earned the right to compete there, and they share the same last name.

Bret Franks was 27 years old the first time he qualified for the NFR in 1997. He followed that up with bids in 1998 and 2000, establishing himself as one of the many top bronc riders coming out of this region. The others – men like Robert and Dan Etbauer, Craig Latham, Tom Reeves, Jeffrey Willert, Jesse Bail, Rance Bray, etc. – had ties to nearby Oklahoma Panhandle State University.

But Franks was Guymon through and through. He married a Texas County girl, the former Darla Herald, and they began their family in the community. First there was Clint, then Cole came along, and the youngest of them all has become a subject when talking about the who’s who of bareback riders today.

Even though he was born in Guymon, the 2022 edition of Pioneer Days Rodeo was the first time Cole Franks competed at the rodeo as a card-carrying member of the PRCA.

He has qualified for the past two NFRs and capitalized at both. In 2021, he earned a hair more than $150,000 in 10 days in the Nevada desert. This past December, he collected a hair less than $150,000. He’s finished third in the world standings in his inaugural trip, the same year he was the Resistol Rookie of the Year, and placed fourth in 2022.

“I don’t really remember a whole lot about that first year,” Cole Franks said. “It was such a blur, because you had so much adrenaline going through you all day every day. This past year, you still had that adrenaline, but you knew what’s going on and how to handle all that. I was a little more relaxed, and but there was a lot less stress.

“You knew the routine a little better. This year was a lot easier dealing with that stuff.”

He’s earned $300,000 in just 20 NFR go-rounds, more than his old man earned in the three seasons in which he finished in the top 15 combined. That’s how much the money has changed in recent years.

Cole Franks was just one of seven contestants with ties to the region who competed at the National Finals, and the best earner was Logan Hay, a bronc buster from Wildwood, Alberta, who attended Panhandle State. Hay pocketed $199,960, while his brother, Dawson, secured $101,405. Wyatt Casper, who was raised in Balko, Oklahoma, earned his third straight NFR qualification, while bareback rider Orin Larsen earned his eighth before an injured thumb took him out of action after the third round.

Oklahoma Panhandle State University rodeo team alumnus Logan Hay earned just shy of $200,000 during his first qualification to the National Finals Rodeo, finishing second in the aggregate race.

Panhandle State alumnae Beau Peterson of Council Grove, Kansas, earned her first qualification to the National Finals Breakaway Roping, where she placed in four go-rounds and finished fourth in the aggregate race. Bull rider Josh Frost finished second in the world standings for the second straight year after a fantastic performance in Las Vegas, where he earned $181,073.

For Logan Hay, he had the time of his life in his inaugural qualification to the NFR. The oldest son of bronc riding legend Rod Hay, he placed in seven go-rounds and finished second in the aggregate race to fellow Canadian and three-time world champion Zeke Thurston.

“It was pretty wild to go in there and have that much success on my first one,” said Hay, 26. “I would have never dreamed it would go like that.”

It certainly made for a memorable trip to Sin City for Hay, who grew up going to Las Vegas to watch his dad compete, then followed his brother to town in Dawson Hay’s first two qualifications. To be on the same stage as his brother and other elite bronc busters made for the opportunity of a lifetime.

Franks also rides bucking horses, but he does so with a rigging instead of a saddle. He’s proven at a young age that he has the ability to compete at a high level. By finishing among the top bareback riders in his first two seasons in ProRodeo, Franks is doing many things right.

Of course, he has a legacy to uphold. He finished second in the NFR average race, just eight points behind his traveling partner, Jess Pope, a three-time average champion and the reigning world titlist.   

“It doesn’t surprise me that I’ve done that well, because that was my ultimate plan,” said Franks, whose father had his best year when Bret Franks finished third in the final 1998 world standings. “Being there with Jess and seeing him win the world motivates me to do it, too.

“It was awesome being there for him, too. That’s really what it’s all about. It’s not a team sport, but it takes a lot of teamwork to get to that point.”

There were many great things that happened at the NFR this past December, with the cream of the crop shining brightly in the City of Lights. It’s that type of competition that will be repeated the first weekend in May, when the champions play in Guymon.


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