Locals are hoping to keep RNCFR championships home where they belong
Oklahoma has a strong legacy in rodeo, from Jim Shoulders and Tom Ferguson to the National Finals Rodeo.
That’s why Oklahoma City is the perfect fit to be the home of the Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 1 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday; and 1 p.m. Sunday at Jim Norick Arena at the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds. This is a showcase of ProRodeo’s circuit system, the greatest cowboys and cowgirls from the 12 regions across the United States.
Oklahoma is well represented in this championship, too. Whether it’s veterans like Charles Pogue or newcomers like Riley Duvall, there’s a good mix of top-caliber contestants who take great pride in qualifying for ProRodeo’s National Championship, where the very best competitors in the sport earn the right to play for one of the largest purses in the sport, more than $525,000.
“Since the circuit finals moved to Oklahoma City last year, I made that a priority,” said Blair Burk, a 14-time qualifier to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo from Durant, Okla. “My No. 1 priority was to qualify for the circuit finals. I’d been to the one up in Pocatello a few years back, then they moved it back down here.
“It looked like it was the perfect fit for Oklahoma City.”
It is a great fit, and the Oklahomans are ready to make it their showcase. Burk is one of three Oklahoma tie-down ropers in the RNCFR, qualifying for Oklahoma City by winning the Ram Columbia River Circuit Finals Rodeo average title last fall. The other two tie-down ropers, Jerome Schneeberger of Ponca City and Hunter Herrin of Apache, qualified through the Prairie Circuit – Schneeberger won the year-end title, and Herrin won the Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo average last October.
“That’s where I started, and I always enjoy those rodeos,” Schneeberger said of the rodeos in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. “Most of them are smaller, but they’ve always been good to me.”
A lot of rodeos have been good to Schneeberger, an 11-time NFR qualifier who won the average title at ProRodeo’s grand finale in 2001. Herrin, who just had a solid run at RodeoHouston, has qualified for the NFR five times in the last six years.
While the Prairie Circuit features contestants and events from mid-America, the Columbia River Circuit encompasses Oregon, Washington and the northern tip of Idaho. Although he’s from Oklahoma, Burk claims that region as his home circuit.
“I go to more good rodeos in the Columbia River Circuit,” Burk said. “There are four tour rodeos that are in that circuit, and there’s only one tour rodeo in the Prairie Circuit, and that’s Dodge City. I just tend to go to more big rodeos in the Columbia River Circuit than I would be able to get to in the Prairie Circuit.
“My family and I are always in Oregon in June anyway, so it makes it easy for me.”
Besides the tie-down ropers, the other Oklahomans in the RNCFR field are team ropers Pogue of Ringling and his partner, Jett Hillman of Purcell; Duvall, a third-generation steer wrestler from Checotah, whose father, Sam, and uncle, Spud, are NFR qualifiers and whose great-uncle, Roy Duvall, is a three-time world champion who qualified for the NFR 24 times; bareback rider Monty Goodwin of Weatherford; saddle bronc rider Hardy Braden of Welch; and barrel racer Carlee Pierce, a Freedom High School graduate who qualified for the 2011 NFR.
“First of all, I’m happy that the national circuit finals is in Oklahoma,” said Pierce, who parlayed a second-place finish at RodeoHouston a week ago into a move to the top spot in the barrel racing world standings. “It’s not so far to drive, and I’m excited to go. Plus that’s another finals that not everybody gets to go to.
“I’m also excited that I qualified for this finals in the same year I qualified for the NFR.”
The event provides another prestigious championship event for rodeo-savvy central Oklahoma, the longtime host of the NFR and the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping. The 2012 event marks the second straight year the RNCFR is part of Oklahoma’s storied rodeo legacy, a place that knows what makes a true champion.
“I love Oklahoma, and I’m happy the finals got to move back here,” Burk said. “It’s going to be great for the state.
“I’ve carried the flag for Oklahoma at the national finals, and I’d love to do it again.”
Until that happens, Burk would be quite content to keep the tie-down roping national championship in Oklahoma.
“You have a lot of national finals qualifiers coming out of this state, and at this event, you’re going to have us three,” Burk said. “You’re also going to have the new world champion, Tuf Cooper, and a lot of other guys that are great ropers. It’s going to be a good roping. If Oklahoma has an advantage, it might be that we have three guys in it.
“We have three guns, and most of those other guys have just two.”
That’s a great advantage. Of course, they’d love to have a biased crowd on their team inside the arena that once housed the NFR.
“I’ve always liked that arena,” Pierce said. “It’ll be my first time to rodeo there. Every other time has been in jackpots, so I’m anxious to see how that is.”
So is everybody else.