The West Texas wind might blow in Amarillo, and while the tumbleweeds might ramble, the people of Amarillo aren’t going anywhere in any kind of hurry. In fact, the Panhandle of Texas is a strong community that gets involved and rallies behind their own. Take for example, the 2014 Wiley Hicks, Jr. Memorial, which raised an astounding $45,000 for a local non-profit organization.
You might recall the Wiley Hicks as the former Make-A-Wish roping, which then became the Wiley Hicks, Jr. Memorial to benefit Make-A-Wish six years ago. In 2011, they adapted the World Series format as a special fees roping, and while he knew he wanted to continue as a benefit roping, producer James Hicks made the decision this year to support a strictly local organization—The Hope & Healing Place.
“We actually took an RFP (Request for Proposal) from three different local charities, and when their information came in, I wanted them to tell me how they spend their money locally, how they help local people,” explained Hicks. “I wanted to keep it in the Panhandle, I wanted it right here in Amarillo.”
Hope & Healing
The Hope & Healing Place (HHP) of Amarillo became a reality for founders Beth Kean and Tricia Trimble in 2003 with a generous founding grant. It was their dream to open a healing center for grieving children, families and individuals. Today, financial support to sustain HHP services comes from Panhandle families, companies, foundations, family trusts, memorial gifts and special events like the Wiley Hicks, Jr. Memorial.
Located in a historic home in the lower downtown of Amarillo, HHP is a 501c3 non-profit organization that offers support groups, grief resources and healing experiences to those in need. A member of the National Alliance for Grieving Children, their grief support services are both age and loss specific and include a variety of groups, including: Journeys, a support group for adults who have lost someone; Hope Camp, a summer camp for children K-6th grade who have experienced a death of someone special in their lives; and Heartprints, for parents and grandparents who have experienced infant loss.
HHP’s Generations Family Program is for families who have experienced a death in any capacity and provides support and healing for school-aged children and adults in a family setting. One of their most far-reaching support programs, HHP offers two eight-week cycles of the program annually. Families visit the Hope & Healing house every other Thursday night to share a common meal and break into their age-appropriate support groups. This approach allows both the children and parents to share common goals and objectives, and it’s the hope of HHP that after each Generations Night, the families leave with opportunities to begin a dialogue about their experiences.
Financial support from the 2014 memorial roping isn’t the first time that James Hicks has been involved with The Hope & Healing Place. In fact, the organization also holds a special place for his wife, Carol Hicks, who has served on their board of directors and acted as past Chair for their annual Half Marathon Memorial Run. James’ own general contracting company, Wiley Hicks, Jr. Inc., completed a much-needed addition on the house several years ago, and the expansion now serves as the “family room” where families gather for Generations Night to share time and meals together.
“Before the addition, we had to spread out all over the house, all over the porch,” explained Tiffany N. Laur, MA, MT-BC, who serves as co-leader of the Journeys group, and facilitator in the family program. “This has allowed us to keep families together. They are able to sit at a table and share a meal and, for some families, it may be the first time since the death of their loved one that they’ve done that.”
A mainstay of the Generations Family Program is the innately decorated birdhouse “garden” which can be found adorning the walls of HHP’s backyard. Families work together, painting a wooden birdhouse in memory of their loved one, and it remains on the fence as a memorial and to help others understand that they aren’t alone in their journey.
“They choose the colors, the symbols, whatever memorializes that person for them, and then they choose what that little plaque is going to say,” explained Laur. “Many of these birdhouses have been here for 10 years since we started in 2003.”
HHP relies on some 45 volunteers a year, and all of the meals on Generations Night are provided by local civic groups, businesses and church groups. The local Caprock High School puts their woodshop class to work building the small birdhouses and later they tour the Hope & Healing house so they can see where their efforts are going. All services offered through HHP are provided at no cost to those who attend, and each and every donation goes directly towards the programs that they offer. It’s certainly a community organization that makes a difference in the lives that it touches. Learn more about The Hope & Healing Place at hopeandhealingplace.org.
Back in the Game
To put some perspective on the evolution of this annual event, which is technically in its 30th year of existence, #12 winner Ollie Lanham, said it best.
“I hadn’t actually roped here since it was the Wiley Hicks. The last time I roped in it, maybe 2002, it was still a 6 header. I won it then with Ben Blue. We won a saddle and $604, I think, if that tells you anything.”
This year, Lanham of Amarillo, Texas, split $28,630 with partner Brad Cottrell, roping four steers in 29.64 seconds.
“That’s actually my biggest win, by about $12,000 it’s my biggest win.” laughed Lanham, who qualified for his first Finale in Vegas. “I was just thinking, ‘Man, that’s a bunch of money. Ok, now what have I got to do? Get entries in and make plans to get Vegas!’”
“But, no, it was really a good win,” he continued. “I was due to hit. It was time. I hadn’t gone all last year. I just cracked back out and needed that win.”
A 6+ header, Lanham’s been busy working the past couple of years on the River Breaks Ranch in Amarillo, where they run a clay shooting operation, event facility and train rope horses. In fact, he’s the proud owner of the first roping horse Bill Cornett, owner of River Breaks Ranch, has ever sold off his place.
“The plan was to keep that horse for grandkids and this horse is gentle, but some things happened, he didn’t trust him for that job. He was going to let him go. I was standing there when he said it, and I liked the horse so we made a deal. That was only the fourth or fifth jackpot he’d been to.”
Lanham’s looking forward to competing at more and more World Series events with “Dudley,” and his big paycheck in Amarillo is going to help him get there.
“You tell me anywhere else you can go win that much money as a weekend warrior,” he explained. “The World Series has really turned team roping upside down. It’s not the guys pounding the road, making a living at it; it’s not your exceptional ropers walking away with the majority of the money. If you look at it, it’s the lower-numbered guys and the weekend guys. Team roping is set up for them and the World Series is the reason for that.”
A Surreal Experience
Similar to his #12 partner, Brad Cottrell of Amarillo, Texas, hasn’t had much opportunity to rope the last couple of years. Additionally, this was the first time he’d roped with Ollie Lanham.
“I’ve only been to one other this year because of Dad’s situation,” explained Brad, who recently lost his father, the late Virgil “Dink” Cottrell, a well-known rodeo producer, cattleman, and an avid team roper himself. “Last year I had a crippled horse. The year before that I had borrowed a horse to go to a few and didn’t place at anything.”
Not only did he turn his luck around and take home a phenomenal payout, Cottrell had been good friends with Wiley Hicks himself, making the entire weekend a memorable one.
“I haven’t had a lot of luck the last five years or more,” he explained. “And then to win the very first roping after Dad passed away, it was almost like it was destiny. And to have it be Wiley’s Memorial just made it even more surreal.”
Cottrell has lived in Amarillo since 1987, and when his dad moved there in the mid ’90s it gave them the opportunity to spend a lot of time together in the practice pen.
“We were real close,” said Cottrell. “Once he moved over to Amarillo, we roped together a lot. The numbers didn’t really fit (for us to compete) but in the lower-number ropings he was still pretty competitive. I think he was 72 when he won his last trophy saddle.”
Cottrell’s rodeo and team roping roots go back to his grandfather, Virgil, who actually produced the very first ProRodeo on the Western Slope of Colorado, and it’s something he’ll continue to do as long as he can, just like Dink did.
“Roping has always been a big part of our lives,” he explained. “I want to keep doing it as much as I can, just as a tribute to my dad.”
And like Cottrell, James Hicks plans to continue producing the very best roping event the Panhandle has in memory of his own father.
“The thing I want to attach my dad’s name to is just a good roping.”