Like every young couple blessed with the prospect of parenthood, Donnie and Mary Jo Ward were over-the-moon excited when they found out she was pregnant with their first child. But there was no time to get the baby room ready when their beloved boy was born at just 24 weeks. Mary Jo was six months along when he decided to make his grand entry into the world at 13 inches long and weighing only 1 pound, 4 ounces. They called him Lucky, and thank goodness he defied doctors’ predictions and survived. Lucky’s 21 now, and one of the biggest team roping fans on the planet.
I noticed the Ward family at the Cinch Timed Event Championship, which ran March 10-12 at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma. I walked past them on the way to my own seat night after night, and as a fan of great parenting took note of the kindness and care they showed their 21-year-old son, who’s wheelchair-bound by cerebral palsy. I also loved how they didn’t dote on him so excessively that he couldn’t just enjoy the show—I watched with a smile as Lucky watched every single run.
Fast forward to BFI Week back at the Lazy E last week. While visiting with Dick Yates I realized that this same family I’d admired from afar a couple weeks before was back, sitting in the same spot and taking in the 45th annual BFI on April 2. So I stepped right up and met them. I found out that the Ward family lives three and a half hours from the Lazy E in Le Flore, Oklahoma, population 200. They bring Lucky to the Lazy E and other ropings, because he loves it.
“Team roping is Lucky’s entire life,” Momma Mary Jo told me. “We tried taking him to ballgames—basketball and baseball—and he hated it. All Lucky does is watch team roping. He has his own little TV by his chair at home, and watches team roping 24/7. If we try to change the channel, he says, ‘How about team roping?’ It’s a wonder he hasn’t worn out tapes of ropings like the BFI and the George Strait.”
Daddy Donnie is a 6 heeler who roped in the BFI #11.5 Businessman’s Roping and BFI #10.5 Roping during BFI Week—which dished out a record $2,874,025 in 2022. Lucky loves watching him rope, and has also made some special friends from the front row.
“Lucky loves Bubba Buckaloo,” Mary Jo said. “Bubba’s his favorite. He’s sent Lucky back numbers and buckles. Lucky loves Coleman Proctor, too. He saw him smoke once, and was pretty intrigued by that.
“Lucky calls (BFI flagger) Phillip Murrah ‘Uncle Phillip.’ Phillip’s given Lucky the BFI flag a few times after having the winners sign it.”
Given his many friends, and that he’s all-in on following them, it’s easy to see why Donnie and Mary Jo haul their only child around to his happy place—arenaside at ropings. They even entered him in the dummy roping at the USTRC Finals one time when he was a kid.
“We come here to the Lazy E a lot, in part because it’s so comfortable here, and they have heat in the wintertime and air conditioning in the summertime,” Mary Jo said. “The only hitches we have happen is when something doesn’t go how Lucky wants it to in the roping. Lucky was furious when Joseph Harrison missed (heading) for Bubba (from fourth high callback, no less) in the BFI #15.5 roping yesterday.” TRJ