Spring Swing
The Golden State Rolls Out the Red Carpet for Open Ropers in 2014.

The spring run of rodeos in California includes the likes of Red Bluff, Oakdale and Clovis, which this year celebrated its 100th anniversary (and before we go any further, thanks to all three for adding equal money in the team roping). The Golden State also went out of its way to hold all the open ropings the sport’s elite could ask for to fill their mid-week down time with more chances to win.

A couple of the biggest and most favorite—in part because they featured 100 percent payback plus added money, and also because their causes meant something special to the cowboys—were the second annual Broc Cresta Memorial Roping, which was held April 15 at the Davis family’s Four Star Ranch Arena in Cottonwood, and the fifth annual James Pickens Jr. Foundation Charity Open Roping, which took place April 22 at the historic Tejon Ranch in Lebec.

Broc’s roping will always be a sentimental favorite, because it’s a cowboy gathering with Broc’s family and closest friends in the arena he finished growing up in. As Broc’s fellow Wrangler National Finals Rodeo heeler and close friend Justin Davis put it that morning, “This is where Broc got good, right here in this arena. So this is the perfect place for all of us to get together and remember him.”

In addition to the 100 percent payback, Broc’s roping had $10,000 in added money, saddles and buckles on down the line for prizes. This year’s champs were Keven Daniel and York Gill, and I thought it was cool that Broc went two-for-two in making sure guys with special ties to him came out on top.

Last year, Clay Tryan and Jade Corkill won it. Remember scratching your head over why Kaleb Driggers placed in the team roping at Dodge City (Kan.) with bronc rider Cody DeMoss in the summer of 2012? It happened, and it was because Jade turned out in the heat of world championship battle to come to Cali for Broc’s memorial service right after we lost him at Cheyenne. Jade caught a ride from the service to the cemetery with my son Lane and I, and there was a moment when we thought the car was on fire because it suddenly filled with “smoke.” Turned out to be a heavy mist of sunscreen, after Jade accidentally set it off with his knee. We all panicked for a second or two, and I started to pull over before we realized there was no fire. I guess we were that out of it.

York, who heeled for Colby Lovell at the 2011 NFR, also had a special tie to Broc and his band of brothers, which included Davis, Spencer Mitchell and Russell Cardoza. (Russell won a Broc buckle heeling in this year’s Pro/Am for Jerry Brewer. “I’m really happy to have one of Broc’s buckles,” Russell said. “To be able to wear a buckle with Broc’s name on it gives me something else to remember him by.”) York had been hanging out with those guys at the rodeos in the summer of 2012, but hung it up for the year and helped out when the unthinkable happened.

Broc had left his rig at a friend’s house in Boise, Idaho, on their way from Nampa (Idaho) to Salinas (Calif.). When Broc died, Spencer knew he needed to get Broc’s rig home. And York didn’t want him going alone. So they both got on a plane from Cheyenne to Boise, and drove Broc’s belongings back to his family. York then stayed in California, and shuttled guys from San Francisco International up to Santa Rosa, where the service was held and Broc was buried. When York and Russell got stuck in traffic, the Cresta family held the service a little while to be sure they were there.

“I wasn’t close to Broc like those guys were, but losing him made me realize there’s so much more to life than rodeoing,” York said. “I quit rodeoing and went home when Broc died. Competing is one thing, but we need to balance our lives. I didn’t enter any rodeos the rest of the year. Losing Broc affected me deep down.

“Anything can happen out here, especially as many of us are out here driving all night all the time. Losing Broc is a tragedy that affected all of us. Life can pass you by so fast. In your 20s you think you’re immortal. I’m in my 30s now, and you start looking at life a little differently.”

Keven and York won Broc’s 102-team roping after putting five runs together in 33.86 seconds. Each got paid $11,000, including a $500 bonus from Purple Cowboy Wine and Terri Wheatley, wife of NFR header Jim and mom of NFR header Wade.

“This has turned into an amazing roping and event,” said four-time NFR header Keven. “It’s pretty cool how much it’s grown in one year.”

The short round went a little sideways, with several barrier buzzers going off. “It was all about the scoring today,” Keven continued. “The main thing was getting out of the barrier. The steers were pretty slow, so you had to sit there and be patient. York pulled off a great shot on that last steer for us to win it.”

This roping has sentimental meaning to every guy there. “Words can’t describe what it means to us to come to this roping,” Keven said. “Broc was one of us. And when you can show up and know every dime every guy put in stays in the pot—plus added money—we can’t thank Broc’s family and friends enough. It’s great to see friends stick together, and all the people who were close to Broc obviously loved him. I’d like to thank my Lord and savior for this day. Anytime you beat these guys it’s a pretty touching moment.”

The event also helps raise money for scholarships, which help young people pursue their rodeo and academic goals. My son Taylor was one of the lucky recipients of last year’s first round of Broc Cresta Scholarships, and to think that Broc’s behind him in going for his goals is priceless to us. (As was the box I found on my doorstep when I got home containing two BC 42 caps for my boys with a sweet note from Broc’s Grandpa Bill, who’s a dear old friend. Bill’s dad, who was Broc’s great grandfather, gave my dad his first bicycle about 70 years ago—that is how far our families go back.)

“This roping means a lot to me because of Broc,” York said. “He was an inspiration to all of us. He heeled so good, and we all respected him. He was just one of those guys you wanted to be like. That whole group took me in—Broc, Spencer, Russell and the Davises. We were all hanging out together at Salinas and on that trip to Cheyenne in 2012. Then he was gone. So it means so much to me to win this one.

“I had more fun in California. We had so many jackpots to go to, and we all had fun and got close. I was fortunate to win about $25,000 between (Charlie) Horky’s (held in Las Vegas the day before the rodeo in Logandale, Nev.; Tom Richards and Junior Nogueira won it) and Broc’s ropings. The California jackpots were good, tough competition. They were not easy. If you’re planning to come to California during those, you better be on your toes. The ropings in California are a lot of incentive for us to come from Texas for the spring. The jackpots are a real opportunity to be profitable.”

Broc’s roping also gives his family the chance to get to know more of his friends. Broc’s mom, Kelly; brother, Brent; sister-in-law, Jenny; niece, Makenna; dad, Danny; and Grandpa Bill all were there working for and reminiscing with Broc’s friends.

“To put on a roping that Broc would have loved to win and help get behind this sport’s future (with the scholarships for rodeo kids) while we’re at it is just a great thing to do for everyone,” Brent said.

Some of the other open ropings held in Cali in conjunction with the spring rodeos included one in Oakdale put on by Walt Rodman (Riley Minor and Chase Tryan won it); Brew’s Big One, produced by Mike Brewer during Red Bluff (Aaron Tsinigine and Clay O’Brien Cooper won it); Cory Petska and Shane Parsons’ roping in Ceres, held the day after Red Bluff (Arky Rogers and Jake Long won that one); the James Pickens Roping, held the next day in Lebec (Clay Tryan and Patrick Smith struck again); and Steve Simons’ jackpot, which was held after slack in Clovis (and was won by Arky Rogers and Travis Woodard).

“These ropings are why I come to California,” said Travis Graves, who’s been hot heeling for Trevor Brazile this year. “The rodeos are really good, too, but the jackpots make for no down time and give you a chance to win a lot of money. I really like the spring in California. It’s my favorite time of year, and we get back outside. (TG’s wife) Tamika is originally from Oakdale.”

As in the original Cowboy Capital of the World (Stephenville, Texas is the other Cowboy Capital, and these days has the most cowboys living there of anywhere on Earth). “It’s old school in Oakdale,” Keven said. “You both come from the left. All these ropings make it worth coming to California for the spring. From Stephenville, it costs about $10,000 to come out here for the spring with fuel and fees. The day we had at Broc’s roping made our month. It’s so important to do good at these jackpots. There’s a chance for a guy to win about $50,000 at these ropings, if you win ’em all.

“We’re also blessed to come to rodeos like Oakdale, Red Bluff, Clovis and Logandale, that add equal money in the team roping. It wouldn’t be worth coming out here for half the money.”

The James Pickens Jr. Foundation Charity Open Roping was held April 22 at the 270,000-acre Tejon Ranch, and—like Broc’s roping—could not have been contested in a more picturesque cowboy setting. Pickens, who plays Dr. Richard Webber on ABC’s hit series Grey’s Anatomy, hosts the roping to spotlight his cowboy friends and heroes, and also his non-profit James Pickens Jr. Foundation, which supports faith-based programming, arts, cultural causes, humanities, education, and health and human services, with special emphasis on initiatives that support this country’s young people.

“I’m a team roping junkie,” Pickens smiles. “I’m a big fan of team roping, and I love to rope myself, so I wanted to do something more. I’ve been lucky enough to develop some relationships with some of these open ropers, and I’ve been going to the NFR since the mid-90s. I started meeting these guys, and was surprised at how many of them morphed into Grey’s Anatomy fans. They jumped on this roping and said, ‘We’re there,’ and we really appreciate these guys making this part of their spring run. It’s a labor of love for me.”

Clay and Patrick, who won matching gold buckles together in 2005, won the Pickens roping—49 teams entered it in 2014—for the second straight year by roping five steers in 32.25 seconds for $4,910 a man, saddles and buckles.

“There are a lot of great ropings out here all spring, and James does a great job with this one,” said Clay, the reigning world champion header, who struck for his second gold buckle with Jade last December. “This is just a great atmosphere, and he gives great prizes. I love all these ropings out here. They’re awesome. And we appreciate the equal money at rodeos like Red Bluff, Oakdale and Clovis. We appreciate all the rodeos that do it, and obviously want every rodeo to do it.”

Clay and Patrick are second partners year-round. “This was a tough roping,” Clay said. “The steers were good, and the conditions are always good here. It’s great what James does for charity, and it’s pretty awesome to come to a roping put on by a movie star.”

“What a beautiful place this is,” Patrick added. “The fans enjoy this roping, and so do we. This roping has such a unique feel to it. It’s almost like we’re on a movie set, and he treats us like royalty. You drive up to the top of a mountain and have a great California jackpot. It’s beautiful up here.

“The more people get to know about this roping, the bigger it’ll be. James has a great thing going here, and I’m sure he’ll make sure it just keeps growing. California is a fun time of year for us. It’s green and beautiful, and the weather’s perfect. It’s a good time to bring a second horse along, because if you aren’t at a rodeo there are jackpots lined up one after the other in California.”

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