Champs bringing gold buckles back to Panhandle

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GUYMON, Okla. – The Oklahoma Panhandle has a legacy of rodeo greatness.

The history grew a little stronger in 2011, and the 80th annual Guymon Pioneer Days Rodeo is just one of the beneficiaries. You see, heeler Jhett Johnson and saddle bronc rider Taos Muncy won world championships in their respective disciplines. They’re just two great cowboys with ties to the region who are expected to return to the annual rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 4; 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 5; and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 6, at Henry C. Hitch Pioneer Arena.

Taos Muncy
Taos Muncy

“That’s always a really good rodeo and one that’s tough to win,” said Muncy, who won his first world championship in 2007, the same year in which he earned the College National Finals Rodeo saddle bronc riding title while competing at Oklahoma Panhandle State University.

“I always enjoy going back. You get to see a bunch of people you know, and it’s a lot of fun.”

Of course, it helps to do well, which is something both Muncy and Johnson have done in Guymon over the years. Last May, Muncy finished second in bronc riding, earning $2,089; Johnson and his partner, Turtle Powell, placed in two of three go-rounds and finished seventh in the average. In all, they earned $3,170.

It all adds up. In rodeo, the contestants with the most money won in each event at the conclusion of the season are crowned world champions.

“It means everything,” said Johnson, who graduated from Panhandle State with a degree in psychology. “It means I rodeoed this long, and it wasn’t for nothing.”

Jhett Johnson
Jhett Johnson

Although Muncy and Johnson are separated by specialties and 16 years, the ties that bind them are in Texas County, Okla., and in Montana Silversmiths gold buckles. Muncy earned the lion’s share of last year’s earnings through the rigors of the rodeo season. Still, he pocketed $94,471 at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, where he finished second in the average race and placed in six go-rounds, including a win on the seventh night of the 10-day competition.

“The world title means everything,” Muncy, 24, of Corona, N.M. “For everyone going down the road, that’s their goal. I had a real good Fourth (of July), and from then on, I just stayed pretty consistent. I was drawing the right horses at the right time. That helps. I drew really good horses all year.”

Johnson finished the 2011 campaign with $197,112, but $125,625 was earned this past December in the Nevada desert.

“It’s just one more fairy tale deal,” said Johnson, 40, of Casper, Wyo. “Like I told some guys earlier, it’s a private club that only Turtle and I are in.

“There is one world champion team ropers, and it’s me and Turtle. I’m champ of the world from now on.”

Actually, Johnson and Muncy bring the 12th and 13th gold buckles back to the region once known as No Man’s Land. It also marks the third straight year that cowboys who were part of the Panhandle State rodeo team have won gold buckles: Rocky Patterson won the 2009 and 2010 steer roping world championships. Other world titlists are bronc riders Robert Etbauer (2), Billy Etbauer (5), Tom Reeves and Jeffrey Willert.

Of course, Muncy joins the Etbauer brothers and Patterson as a cowboy who owns multiple gold buckles.

“That kid’s got a boatload of talent,” said Craig Latham, the Panhandle State rodeo coach who qualified for the NFR nine times. “He’s got all the ability in the world and the right mindset. If you’ve got the talent and the mindset, you can go a long ways.”

Having a hunger for competition is always helpful. Johnson has been part of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association since 1992, and he knows that being on the road chasing his dreams has meant taking time away from his family.

“It ain’t time to quit; I’ll never quit,” Johnson said. “But I’d like to spend more time with my boys. If you want to go out on top, I guess I this is top.”

Muncy is just in his sixth season on ProRodeo, but he’s proven his talent over and over again. His plan is to continue to compete at an elite level.

“I try to have as much fun as possible,” he said. “If you’re not having any fun doing it, then you might as well stay home.”


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