Derrick Begay texted me the greatest picture the other day of ProRodeo Hall of Fame steer wrestler Ote Berry holding him and his sister Jamie when the Begays were itty bitty and young Ote had just won his first of four world titles. Derrick knew I’d love the picture, because he knows how much I love Ote—and him. I did get a kick out of the sweet shot of the three of them, and sure enjoyed catching up on the phone call that followed.
Our conversation was as wide open as the Arizona desert Begay rides on a daily basis. It started with how cool it’s going to be to get their little Begay-Begay-Berry trifecta together for a reunion next week in Reno. I really must get an updated shot for Derrick and Jamie’s mom, Myrtle, who took that original picture when Derrick was 2, Jamie was 3, and Ote was 23—32 years ago.
We were then on to their respective business in Reno. Derrick—who’s roped at seven Wrangler National Finals Rodeos, but has been sticking pretty close to his Seba Dalkai, Arizona, home this spring—will be there spinning steers for Jade Corkill at the BFI and Reno Rodeo.
“I’ve always wanted to rope with Jade,” said Derrick, whose last long-term roping relationship with Clay O’Brien Cooper ended in April, per friendly, mutual decision. “Jade just finished a long partnership with Clay Tryan, like I did with Champ. Jade obviously ropes great, and is one of the top five heelers of all time. We’ve roped at a few little jackpots before, but Reno will be our first rodeo. And now we’re going to rope at the biggest roping there is.
“Jade and I are just going to rope at Reno. He has one of the best roping resumes ever, and has basically won everything but the BFI. That puts a little pressure on me. It’s a lot of pressure just to rope with Jade—now to try and get him the one major title he doesn’t already have. I’m a little nervous and a little scared, just because I want to do so good for him. But I’m looking forward to it.”
It’s Reno or Bust for the team of Begay and Corkill, and as Team 106 they’ll be the last team to rope in Round 1 at the BFI.
“I wish I had some horses underneath me to step up and stay out there with him,” Begay said. “But I don’t have the right animal right now to ask him to do that. The Reno Rodeo and the BFI are my big chance. Those two events are it for us for now.
“After Reno, I’m going to go to some PRCA and amateur rodeos around the house over the Fourth of July. I’ll head for Ty Romo at the PRCA rodeos, and rope with my dad (Victor) at the amateur rodeos. Then I’m going to fly to Wisconsin to head for Cory Petska at a few rodeos, and go with him the week of Casper and Sheridan (Wyoming), and Vernal (Utah). Cory and I will go to a few other rodeos in Utah, then to California for Salinas. That’s as far out as we’ve planned for so far. Cory wants to win enough money to get to go to the winter rodeos next year. That might take us three weeks or six months—you never know.”
Sister Jamie also has big business in Reno. The girl has a very special gift with a camera, and will be shooting the BFI for The Team Roping Journal. Her little brother, who shares the same birthday, could not be more proud.
“Jamie was born August 15, 1982, and I was born August 15, 1983,” Derrick said; they also have another sister, Brittany, who’s several years younger. “Jamie and I grew up almost like twins. We’re pretty close. Jamie never had a camera when we were kids, and she used to be a teacher. She’s my sister, so it doesn’t matter what she does—I’m proud of her, no matter what. She supports me, and I support her also.
“Now she loves taking pictures, and she has a passion for it. Jamie and I have always been the same way. Whatever we decide to do, we work hard and try to get really good at it. She’s come a long way with her camera. She’s worked so hard to get where she is today, so that’s pretty cool. And she still has her humility. That’s really cool.”
Ote, who’s a past winner of the Reno Rodeo’s signature silver spurs, will be in town producing a Reno Rodeo-presented stop on the 2018 Ote Berry’s Junior Steer Wrestling World Championship Tour, which will take place on short-round Saturday of the Reno Rodeo, June 23. Humility is handed down in the Berry family the same way it’s a longstanding tradition for the Begays. Ote has always felt at home with native people, and his humble beginnings in the remote ranch country of the South Dakota Badlands are a big reason why.
“Me and Ote know both sides of life,” Derrick said. “We were brought up the same way. We didn’t have much. But we knew what we wanted to do. We didn’t know how we were going to do it. But we loved it so much that we were willing to work for it, and we became successful. We got to live the dream. Now when we go back to where we come from, we know how those kids in those places feel. It’s fun to see life from both sides of the fence.
“I used to not want people to know I was poor. I felt like that when I started rodeoing. But when I got to a certain point, I realized I’m proud of it. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed about that anymore. Ote’s always been tight with Indian people. We may come from different parts of the country, but we basically come from the same place.
“When we were kids, my mom liked taking pictures of us like that one with Ote. There have always been a lot of Native American kids in those long autograph lines, especially at places like the NFR. Victor and Myrtle Begay were those parents, and my sisters and me were those kids. We knew who everybody was. Ote’s an easy name to remember, and look at him in that picture—Ote was young and slick, with a brand new hat and Cheyenne buckle. He was looking pretty sharp. I’ve known Ote a lot longer than he’s known me. Some of us are just meant to know each other. We’re meant to have a story.”
The Arizona desert is almost always dry. It’s particularly parched right now.
“We haven’t had any rain, and we’re drier than we’ve ever been,” said Begay, who never forgets to count his blessings and stays in constant search of every situation’s silver lining. “Sometimes things come easy, and the grass comes. I’ve been home a lot this year. But getting calls from Corkill and Petska makes it hard to quit.
“Opportunities like this make me feel like I’m supposed to go. We’re all addicted enough—and love roping enough—to say, ‘Yeah, put me down,’ even if we might not have the right horse or the money. But here comes opportunity. I’ve always said yes to opportunity, even when I don’t have all the details ironed out. And so far, it’s been turning out OK.”
Begay beams big when the talk turns to Reno and the BFI.
“The BFI is the most prestigious roping, and it’s been around the longest,” he said. “It’s a six-header with a lot of tradition. It’s one of those ropings where if you win it, you’re good enough to win it, and you’re meant to win it. I’ve been there a lot of times, and tried so hard. It’s the one I look forward to every time.
“It’s Reno, and Reno kicks off our summer. Reno’s a great town. Reno’s weather is great. The BFI is the best, and the rodeo’s right there along with it. Everybody who ropes good and all the fans are there, so Reno’s like one big roping and rodeo reunion. We all get scattered out in the spring, but we always gather back up together in Reno. It’s just a good place to be every June.
“Everybody loves packing up the rig to go to Reno. You get the good rig out, get new tires, load good hay, and get your best clothes all clean and folded nice and creased up. Your mindset is, ‘I’m fixing to go out into this world and see what I’m made of.’ That’s what I love about Reno. Everybody shows up there fresh and ready. The blankets in the trailer are clean, and you’ve got some fresh towels. Reno’s almost like the first day of school. Everybody shows up with new shoes and a smile. Reno gives a guy that same feeling. It’s a new start.”