Michael Bell, Clovis, N.M., and Jake Cripps, Gentry, Ark., have quite a bit in common. But the one thing they have in common that no one else does is the championship title to the World Series of Team Roping’s inaugural #15 Finale.
When the WSTR decided to add the division to the Finale IX schedule the association wasn’t completely sure what to expect, but the response was phenomenal and going forward it will continue as a full Finale-format division.
Bell and Cripps roped four steers in 26.62 seconds to take home $138,000—and they were due. Roping together most of the year, they’d won just enough here and there to make it to the next one.
“I kept telling Michael, one of these days were going to put it together,” Cripps recalled. “We just needed a little confidence and a little faith and if we kept after it, kept sowing those seeds, we’d be rewarded.”
However, shortly before they were scheduled to head west from New Mexico, Cripps was ready to back out.
“I’d only practiced twice in about two months,” he explained. “Between work, finances and my truck breaking down, we just weren’t sure. But I had a sense of peace and calm come over me when I knew God had provided a way for us to come out here. I knew then, I just had to do my part.”
Finding A Way
Born and raised in Clovis, header Bell learned to rope from Dusty Leatherwood, and it was his mentor who stepped in to help the team get to Las Vegas.
“He loaned us his truck,” explained Bell. “Dusty and his wife have been like parents to me, and I wouldn’t be here if God hadn’t brought them into my life.”
Thirteen years ago, Bell took his horse over to Leatherwood’s arena where he learned to rope and never looked back.
“I truly enjoy roping,” said Bell, who works full-time selling animal health products for Clovis Vet Supply. “I feel like I was blessed with a talent to rope and I just try to use that as an opportunity to bring glory to God.”
And that’s another thing the two have in common, their faith. Both agreed their strong devotion has helped them develop an even stronger friendship outside the arena and has likewise carried over to help them as roping partners.
“It’s not something we necessarily talk about,” said Cripps. “But he’s a Christian, I’m a Christian, and that makes it easy. It makes roping easy. It makes life easy. I have an abundance of faith in him as far as his heading ability. I know he’s going to do his job and I just worry about my end of it.”
Bell and Cripps were first introduced through a mutual friend and when they realized they couldn’t rope in the #13 they teamed up to rope in an Open roping in Clovis last spring.
“We didn’t do any good,” Bell recalled, but they started practicing together consistently. “We roped together nearly every day just trying to get each other figured out. We won a little around the Fourth of July and got some momentum, and then Jake had to go to work and our roping slowed down a little.”
Despite their lack of monetary gain in the roping pen throughout the year, the two formed a permanent friendship.
“I knew right away he was someone I could relate to,” explained Cripps. “When you’ve roped long enough, you just know when someone will be a good partner and a good friend. If we quit roping tomorrow, it’s still a good friendship to have.”
Cripps grew up on his family’s farm and ranch in Gentry, Ark., and came by roping naturally, winning his first saddle with his dad Gary Cripps.
Cripps currently resides in Portales, N.M., with his wife, Morgan, and daughter, Blakely, but frequently returns to Arkansas to work on the family farm. He also travels for his family’s commercial construction business, Arco Environments Inc., most recently spending two weeks in the Caribbean islands.
“After I got married I quit roping for a while,” Cripps explained. “And then we had a baby girl and I had to quit roping a little while longer, becoming a bigger family man. Once you have a little baby, once you learn what life is all about, you see things differently.” Adding that his share of the $138,000 will likely be going toward a college fund.
Bell and Cripps have already entered the 2015 George Strait Team Roping Classic and the Open Roping at the Patriot event in Fort Worth, Texas, and their roping mentality is one for success.
“If I miss or he misses, it’s over with. We don’t pout about it,” explained Cripps. “There’s another day, another steer, another place to go rope somewhere.”
And while it took nearly a year for the two to find their groove, it was worth it in the end.
“We did struggle some this year,” said Bell. “But it definitely paid off.”