DODGE CITY, Kan. – Jerry Norton is a world champion, a motivational speaker and a doting father.
He also has been a fixture every summer in Dodge City, where he serves as a bullfighter and ambassador for Roundup Rodeo, set for 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1-Sunday, Aug. 5, at Roundup Arena. The 2012 edition of Kansas’ largest rodeo will mark the end of Norton’s 23-year ProRodeo bullfighting career.
“I’m moving on,” Norton said. “Bullfighting doesn’t thrill me as much as it used to. I’m also realizing I’m not a young pup. I want to quit before they say that I should have to. Plus I’m getting very busy working as a barrelman and rodeo clown. Dodge City is the only rodeo I’ll be fighting bulls this season.”
It’s a transition phase for Norton, but it’s befitting of a grand celebration. Norton first arrived in Dodge City to serve in cowboy protection during the rodeo’s bull riding, but his main purpose was to battle for the coveted title in the Wrangler Bullfights, a freestyle bullfight that was a longtime feature at Roundup and several other rodeos across this land. In fact, Norton won the Wrangler Bullfighting Tour’s world championship at the 1998 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
“Dodge City’s really the only rodeo I get to work with Jerry, and it’s always good to see him and his family and share what’s gone on with our lives throughout the year,” said Lance Brittan, the 1999 Wrangler Bullfighting Tour’s world champion originally from Scott City, Kan. “We’ve become good friends over the years, and we call each other a couple of times a year, but I really enjoy getting the chance to sit down and visit with him.”
They also get to use their athleticism during Roundup’s bull riding to keep everyone in the arena out of harm’s way. This year they will be joined by rising star Wacey Munsell, also a freestyle bullfighting world champion who won titles in association with the Professional Bull Riders tour and the World Championship Rodeo Bullfighting, an event that is designed specifically for freestyle fights.
“It will be pretty cool personal feeling to look around that arena and seeing that level of ability that’s not matched very often,” Norton said. “I’m sure each one of us is going to be stepping it up.
“With Wacey taking over for me after this year, there will be a seamless transition. He’ll take the shots that need to be taken. Basically this is his hometown crowd. He has wanted to work this rodeo since before he got into the PRCA.”
Munsell, a third-generation bullfighter from Ulysses, Kan., is looking forward to the opportunity that awaits him in Dodge City.
“It’s a goal I’ve long awaited to accomplish,” he said. “I grew up going to that rodeo. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been to that rodeo. I can remember back when I was 8 years old going to that rodeo, and it was Jerry, Lloyd Ketchum and Rowdy Berry. That was when the Wrangler tour was big. I’ve wanted to fight bulls there since then.”
That happens when one is raised around bullfighting. Norton wasn’t, but he has taken to it quite well. In fact, he’s worked some of the biggest events in the sport since turning pro in 1990. He’s most proud, though, of working Roundup for 20 years.
“I went in knowing that the only bullfighter Dodge City brings back every year was the one that won the bullfighting,” Norton said. “I knew I had to do that.
“One of my biggest memories is being asked to come back the second year. I didn’t win the bullfight, and they asked me back. That was pretty special to me.”
That euphoria continued year after year.
“What’s best is the people involved,” he said. “It’s the people of Dodge City, not just the rodeo committee people. Some are the rodeo’s sponsors, and some are just people from the community. We’ve got some really good friends there. That’s the one rodeo that’s a gimme for my wife to attend, because she loves Roundup Rodeo that much.”
Why? Over the course of two decades, even April Norton has learned what her husband appreciates about Roundup.
“I’m blessed beyond what I deserve to go to a rodeo like Dodge City for so long,” Jerry Norton said. “That has allowed me and my family to develop relationships like we have.”