Headliner Hurley

Ten rodeo legends will be immortalized and 16 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo committees highlighted in the history books July 12 with induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colo.

The four standout contestants in the Hall’s Class of 2008-team roper Bobby Hurley, all-around great Paul Tierney, saddle bronc rider Tom Reeves and late superstar steer roper Shaun Burchett-own seven gold buckles between them and also pack a pretty grand total of 56 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifications under their belts.

Late stock contractor Feek Tooke, bucking horse extraordinaire Trails End, the husband-and-wife specialty act team of Leon and Vicki Adams in the contract personnel category, rodeo notable Duane Howard and the late Buddy Lytle, who’ll be recognized for lifetime achievement, also will be inducted into the Hall this summer. In addition, the 16 committees previously honored with special recognition by the PRCA and ProRodeo Hall of Fame will be officially inducted in 2008.

So much can be said about this elite group as the Hall celebrates 30 years of history-making success. The inaugural Class of 1979 would surely be proud to be joined by this year’s honorees. There are special stories behind each member of the Class of 2008 and, as always, there are the seldom-told side stories that land somewhere on a scale ranging from sunny and funny to flat sad.

Harry “The Duke” Vold tells me that late stock contracting great Oral Zumwalt bought Trails End from a sheep herder who was herding sheep on the horse up in some remote mountains. He also clearly remembers another fellow stock contracting icon, Feek Tooke, receiving an award in the arena at the NFR in Oklahoma City, riding out the gate and dropping dead of a heart attack in the saddle.

Shaun Burchett was one cool cowboy customer, and he was not afraid to try something new in the name of breaking the speed barrier. For those of you who’ve either forgotten or weren’t there, Shaun wasn’t afraid to take the faster, riskier option of tying the top front leg instead of the more timely and conservative bottom one. He hustled from the time his chin hit his chest until he was back on his horse taking a couple steps forward. Besides his wife and my friend, LaRae, Shaun left behind a baby girl, Kelsie. She’s 16 now, and just went to the prom. Sure wish my buddy Shaun was here to get an ulcer over that.

Sue Lytle misses her husband something fierce, as do the cowboys, who still say Buddy was “the fairest of them all” when commentating on his flagging. Sue made me laugh the other day when she reminisced about Buddy-big, burly Buddy-hand-drawing all her cards, be it birthday, Christmas or anniversary. “He couldn’t draw a lick, but it was the thought that counted. He always said he was trying to put Hallmark out of business,” she recalled.

When I think of Bobby Hurley, I think of a good guy who was usually laughing, and a talented roper who always rode a great horse. Bobby could stick, and he won the world in 1993 and ’95. He won that first title alone, back in the day when whoever won the most money won the world-team or individual (I always wondered whatever happened to the other gold buckle and world title trophy saddle on years like that). Hurley actually roped most of the ’93 season (January to September) with Clay O’Brien Cooper before closing that first gold-buckle deal with Allen Bach. I’ll never forget Bobby and Big Al winning five straight rounds (six through 10) at NFR ’93.

“Pretty good for a country boy from Arkansas,” chuckles Hurley, who’ll be 44 this month. “We weren’t ready for that rodeo to be over with, that’s for sure. We were on a hot streak, and making a little money. Allen and I were wanting to go on with it. Talk about a good time to get hot. It was a deal like one of these days it’s going to be your day and you want to be entered when it is-we just happened to be entered.

“I’d been to the Finals several times by then, and after a while you learn how to win there. There are lots of guys who can rope all over the United States, but not a whole lot of guys know how to win. A lot of them probably roped better than I did, but they couldn’t always beat me. You win at the Finals when you have confidence in your roping, you’re both on the same page and you’re both experienced. You still see the guys with lots of experience hooking up for the Finals, because experience comes in pretty handy at that rodeo.”

Paul Tierney

Tierney, 56, was the world champion tie-down roper in 1979 before his banner 1980 all-around crown, which ended Tom Ferguson’s six-year reign as all-around champ. That year, Tierney became the second rodeo cowboy to surpass $100,000 in earnings during a single season. He was second in the tie-down roping standings in 1980 and fourth in steer wrestling to earn $105,568. He was the reserve all-around champion in both 1977 and 1979, finishing second both times to Ferguson, and was fourth in 1981 behind Jimmie Cooper, Roy Cooper and Ferguson. Seven times Tierney rated among the top 10 all-around cowboys before retiring in the late 1980s after blowing out a disc in his back. He had nine NFR tie-down qualifications (1977-82, 1984-86) and five in steer wrestling (1977, 1979-81, 1984).

Another memorable career moment for Hurley was his first of 12 straight NFR appearances, 15 in all, in 1986.

“I went in last-15th-which makes you the first team out on opening night,” said Hurley, whose NFR years were 1986-97, 1999, 2000 and 2001. He qualified for that first Finals after roping most of the year with Leo Camarillo, then roped with Denny Watkins at the NFR. “I was so nervous I couldn’t spit. You walk into that moat (which is now a thing of the past at the Thomas and Mack Center in Vegas) and it feels like everybody’s sitting on that horse with you. Everything draws up. It’s an unbelievable feeling, but it’s a rough one.”

Hurley and Bach were co-champs of the world in 1995, the first year separate world titles were awarded to the high-money header and heeler. That was also the year 15 headers and 15 heelers started qualifying for the Finals. Before that, the top 15 ropers made the cut, then they “invited” a partner if they weren’t already paired up. (That never made sense to me, because you can’t have an NFR team roping with 15 guys.) Besides Bach, Hurley’s other Who’s Who career partners list included Camarillo, Cooper, Watkins, Dennis Gatz, Mike Beers, Monty Joe Petska, Tyler Magnus and Cody Cowden. Hurley and Cowden won both the BFI and the George Strait Team Roping Classic in 1997.

So many triumphs, but not so many partners.

“There’s a chemistry there with every successful team,” Hurley said. “You see a lot of guys now working their way back to each other. After you don’t win for a while you seem to forget about the bad times. There’s definitely an advantage to long-term roping relationships. If you have an inkling as to what your partner’s going to do and what he can handle, it helps you win. And winning’s fun. Allen Bach used to always say, ‘I’ve tried winning and I’ve tried losing, and I like winning by far the best.’ He’s still out there, and he’s still winning.”

Hurley’s head horse herd included Yellow Bar Smug, aka “Bar Smug,” who was the 1990 PRCA/American Quarter Horse Association Head Horse of the Year, and Tres Spiffy Dude (Bobby called him “Spiff”), who won the award in 1994. Another Hurley mount, Dunny, later returned to the Finals with Jake Barnes aboard. Fact is, Hurley rodeoed for 18 years, primarily on those three horses. He could make them, and he could keep them working.

“Horses are big in everybody’s career,” noted Hurley, who racked up career earnings of $1,006,390. “You have to have more than just transportation. It’s hard to keep a horse working that long, so it’s about knowing when to ask him for all of it.”

Shaun Burchett

Shaun Burchett was a steer roping prodigy. He was the PRCA Steer Roping Rookie of the Year in 1981 at age 17, and made his first National Finals Steer Roping appearance at 19. He was twice reserve World Champion (1985-86) to ProRodeo Hall of Famer Jim Davis before taking back-to-back world championships in 1987-88. Burchett appeared in nine consecutive NFSRs (1983-91) despite losing his spleen and suffering damage to a kidney in May 1989, when his truck collided with a train. Burchett, of Pryor, Okla., broke the NFSR record with a 9.8-second run in 1990, and was the first steer roper ever to post a time under 9.0 seconds. He did it twice in 1987, with runs of 8.5 and 8.9 seconds. He died in a single-vehicle accident in Sherman, Texas, on January 26, 1992, at age 28.

Hurley and his beautiful, bubbly wife, Trish, have four kids, Brooke, 18, Brittany, 15, Blake, 12, and Little Bob, 7. He manages the Hurley BH Ranch in Clarksville, Ark., where they raise cattle, horses-“and kids.” He still ropes for fun, but he quit roping for a living not long after September 11, 2001.

“When 9-11 happened, and all the bologna at the airports started, I really knew it was time to quit,” remembers Hurley, who was at the Pendleton (Ore.) Round-Up on 9-11-01. “That following winter, in 2002, Mike Beers and I had been up and down, back and forth I-10 between Tucson and Houston. That’s when I officially quit. We were winning good. Mike and I had just won second at Houston. Everybody was telling me, ‘You can’t quit now-you’re in the top five.’ I said, ‘You guys watch me.’ I was tired.

“By the time I left Houston, I’d sold my horse. I went back to (Ceres) California (Trish was raised in San Francisco) and rodeoed out there a little while. Then I moved back to (his native) Arkansas the first of July. I miss the guys, and I miss the competition. I’ve traveled with the best of the best. I wouldn’t trade that for the world. Just the stories. I still have some roping schools, and a lot of those guys like to hear about the old tales of the rodeo trail. But I don’t miss the miles or the having to practice, where it became a job.”

What he hated most about winning the world was giving the speech at the awards banquet. The ever-humble Hurley will have to come up with another one come induction day.

“Getting inducted into the Hall is the period on the sentence; the icing on the cake,” he smiled. “The world championships are great, because that’s what you strive for is to win a world championship. When you’re young, that’s what matters. When you get old, the Hall is what matters. It’s the old man’s world championship. When you win a world championship, you don’t think there’s anything above that as far as your career goes. Your family and your kids are ultimately important. But when it comes to your career, everybody wants to be the best they can be at whatever they do. That’s everybody’s ultimate goal. Nobody starts out wanting to be fourth best.

“This is the period on the sentence of my career. It’s very fulfilling. You walk away from rodeo and do other things in life. You finally quit wondering where everybody’s at on July the Fourth. Then this comes up, and it brings back a lot of memories, scars, tough times and good times. My rodeo career was a million-dollar experience. You learn a lot about life out there on the rodeo trail.”

Feek Tooke:
Tooke started raising horses on the family’s Montana ranch in 1936, and the breeding program he created with his son, Ernest, has produced more than 6,000 bucking horses, passed along to every top stock contractor in North America. The foundations of the Tooke bloodline were Prince, General Custer, Timberline, Gray Wolf and Snowflake. Since 1987, the majority of National Finals Rodeo champion broncs and PRCA Bucking Horses of the Year award recipients are genetically linked to the Tookes’ program, including Angel Blue, Spring Fling, Air Wolf, Commotion, Guilty Cat, Bobby Joe Skoal, Challenger and Cloud Gray.

Tom Reeves

Reeves, the 2001 PRCA World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider and an 18-time NFR qualifier, received the ProRodeo Hall of Fame Mentoring Award in 2007 after taking Ranger (Texas) College to the College National Finals Rodeo men’s team title in his second season as coach. As a competitor, Reeves qualified for the first 18 NFRs held in Las Vegas (1985-2002), six times finishing among the top four in the world. Only Billy Etbauer has more NFR qualifications with 19. Reeves, 43, also served as captain of the gold medal-winning United States squad at the 2002 Olympic Command Performance Rodeo in Farmington, Utah. Reeves retired in 2005 with career earnings of $1,745,962, putting him 20th on the all-time list entering the 2008 season.

Trails End:
The pride of the Oral Zumwalt rodeo string out of Missoula, Mont., Trails End was the 1959 Rodeo Cowboys Association Bucking Horse of the Year and was three times named top saddle bronc of the NFR (1959-61). The nearly 1,300-pound sorrel horse bucked off the best in the business during his 11 NFR appearances, including ProRodeo Hall of Famers Casey Tibbs and Guy Weeks. In 1959, Trails End was ridden just four times in 13 tries, and three of the cowboys who made the eight-second whistle won the rodeo.

Leon and Vicki Adams:

For parts of five decades, the husband-and-wife team of Leon and Vicki Adams of Stuart, Okla., has been entertaining rodeo crowds with Roman riding on the backs of Brahma bulls, dancing horses and Brahmas leaping through hoops of fire. Leon, 77, received the PRCA Specialty Act of the Year Award in 1982, followed two years later by Vicki, 56. They twice won the award together, in 1987 and 1997. Apart from appearing at major rodeos all across the United States, the Adams have performed in France, Japan, Finland, Mexico and Canada.

Duane Howard:
The term all-around takes on a different meaning when applied to Howard, of Minnewauken, N.D. An all-around cowboy who competed at the highest level of ProRodeo as a young man, Howard would later serve on the PRCA Board of Directors, as a PRCA pickup man and as one of the first PRCA professional judges (1982-94), working the NFR 11 times. Howard competed in all three roughstock events as a professional, finishing as reserve World Champion in bull riding three times (1955, 1957 and 1960) and also as reserve World Champion All-Around Cowboy to Jim Shoulders in 1957. He qualified in saddle bronc riding and bull riding at the first two NFRs in 1959 and 1960, and was the bull riding average winner both years before his competitive career was cut short by injuries suffered at the 1961 Cheyenne (Wyo.) Frontier Days.

Buddy Lytle:
One of rodeo’s most respected and well-liked officials, Lytle helped develop and write the PRCA’s judging handbook, which was instrumental in professionalizing the sport. Lytle, of Byhalia, Miss., became a judge after a competitive career as a tie-down roper and steer wrestler, judging 24 NFRs, Cheyenne (Wyo.), Pendleton (Ore.), Houston, Fort Worth and other top rodeos all over the country. He became a field representative for the PRCA in 2000, training prospective judges and working with accredited judges to help make them better. Despite a quiet battle he waged with leukemia over eight years, he kept judging until November 2001 and, even being hospitalized, analyzed judging statistics and watched events on TV. He died April 10, 2002, at age 61.

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