Thirteen teams will do head-to-head battle at The American East Regional Finals in Lexington, Kentucky tonight for a shot at advancing to the February 10 American Contender Tournament Finals in Abilene, Texas. Lexington is the last regional call on the 2024 Road to The American, which will lead the Western world to The American on March 9 at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas.
An interesting fun fact about tonight’s final showdown is that while there are 13 teams on the day sheet, there are only nine quarterbacks. That’s because headers Coleman Proctor, Chad Masters, Lightning Aguilera and Nelson Wyatt have all earned two runs in the sudden-death finals.
Proctor’s the perfect spokesman here, in part because he went way out of his road to make the trip to Kentucky from his Oklahoma home, and also because he knows firsthand about the literal life-changing money that awaits those who make it to the end of the Road to The American.
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“Ever since its inception, the appeal of The American is life-changing money,” said the 38-year-old eight-year veteran of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo presented by Teton Ridge. “We still haven’t seen rodeos like this much in our sport, and when The American came along, the chance for a team roper to win $100,000 at a one-day rodeo was unheard of.
“When you add the extra element of making it to The American as a contender—which gives you a shot at the million—that’s just huge. I still remember watching (first American millionaire, bareback rider) Richmond Champion holding up that big check. That’s when The American became a priority to me, and I swore I’d never miss it.”
The last three straight weeks have been All American All the time. First, there was the West Regional Finals at the South Point in Las Vegas, which has been the Cowboy Town home of the NFR since 1985. Then last week, it was the Central Regional Finals at Jim Norick Arena in Oklahoma City, which was home to the NFR from 1965-78. That would have been so convenient for a cowboy like Coleman from Pryor, Oklahoma. But he couldn’t make either, due to rodeo-schedule conflicts. Still, he made The American a priority.
“Like I told my wife, the 11-hour drive east was a small price to pay to run at the chance of holding that big check over my head,” Proctor said. “Any fool can get lucky and win The American. I know that for a fact.”
There’s nothing foolish about his must-not-miss philosophy about The American. Proctor and his 2019 roping partner, Ryan Motes, split the million with Brazilian bull rider Joao Ricardo Vieira that year. Each skipped town $433,333.33 richer, including the $100,000 each event pays beyond the $1 million contender bonus.
“I signed the back of that check, and sent it and my American prizes back home with close family friend and neighbor Paula Best and her grandson, Seth,” Coleman remembers. “I won $433,333.33 that Sunday afternoon, and on Monday morning I called my bank every 10 minutes to ask for my account balance. They’d tell me, and I’d hang up and call right back and ask again—until that check hit.
“You have to understand, I missed making the NFR in 2018. So while the best in the world were in Vegas that December, Heisman and I were dragging calves and day working for Paula’s son Shane, because we both needed the work. For my kids to get to feel the rewards of that one rodeo a few months later really was life changing. A guy told me one time to, ‘Always stick with what you know.’ So when I won all that money at The American, I went to buying horses and cows, because that’s what I know. The American had a huge financial impact on my family’s life.”
As for that little bay horse…SCR Sporties Little Playgun, aka Heisman, is 16 now. This horse was not on Proctor’s must-have list, but has sure come in handy. And that’s what Coleman will ride in on tonight, when he ropes with both Logan Medlin and Levi Lord in the East Regional Finals.
“I never would have bought Heisman if my good buddy Shane Boston wouldn’t have told me he thought I needed him,” Proctor said. “But I followed his advice, and it changed my life. Heisman is super spoiled, and has little-man syndrome. But he’s a winner, and he’s made me who I am. I’ve had some great horses in my career, but Heisman has been my game changer. And yes, he’s the horse I won The American on.”
Tonight’s sudden-death format and the two bullets his teams earned are right in Proctor’s wheelhouse, and he can hardly wait to back in there with his hammer cocked—twice. It’ll be a 13-team one-header, with the fastest five teams advancing to Abilene, where the top five in each event from Vegas and OKC will be waiting.
“What we’re riding into tonight is right up Heisman’s alley, too,” Coleman said. “He’s catty across the line, easy to catch on, his timing is really good and he moves the steer when I need him to. He helps me open things up fast, so my heeler has a shot on the first legal hop. Heisman’s always stepped up to the plate for me on the biggest stages in the biggest situations, and having a horse like him that’s that clutch is a big advantage for me.
“Heisman’s a pain in the ass. He might shake his head walking into the box, and act like a spoiled pony. I sold him one time, when I needed the money to build my arena. But I traded back for him a month later. The Monday before I won The American on him, I had a guy try Heisman for $30,000. Then six days later, I won $430,000 on him.
“Yeah, Heisman’s a pain in the ass, but he’s my pain in the ass and I owe him everything. I tell him all the time, ‘Only one of us gets to get nervous here, and it’s not you.’ For all his quirks, if Heisman was a person, he’d be a great friend. Because he always shows up for me.”
Teams who’ve earned their way into tonight’s finals in Lexington, listed in the competition order they’ll rope in:
- Lightning Aguilera and Jonathan Torres
- Cory Kidd and Carson Johnson
- Coleman Proctor and Logan Medlin
- Nelson Wyatt and Lane Mitchell
- Erich Rogers and Paul Eaves
- Chad Masters and Lane Mitchell
- Brenten Hall and Kaden Profili
- Lightning Aguilera and Travis Graves
- Chad Masters and Wyatt Cox
- Coleman Proctor and Levi Lord
- Ross Mitchell and Cole Walker
- Nelson Wyatt and Jonathan Torres
- Jaxson Tucker and Kaden Profili