Memorial Day was made a national holiday to honor the men and women who have perished in the service of the United States Armed Forces.
While most Americans spend the weekend at barbecues, the roping community migrates to Saginaw, Texas, on the three days prior to Memorial Day to remember one if it's own influential and early leaders: Windy Ryon.
Don "Windy" Ryon is named for the founder of Ryon's Saddle Shop and Western Store in the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. For decades it was a gathering place for cowboys and rodeo hands. In the early days of professional rodeo, the Ryon name was tied closely to the sport.
In 1973, after his death, Ryon's friends held a memorial roping in his honor and in its 35-year existence it has become an institution featuring the best team ropers, tie-down ropers and steer ropers. Additionally, the event plays host to a women's team roping, celebrity washer pitch, invitational breakaway roping, senior steer roping, double mugging, concerts and a church service.
In fact, Tommy Edens grew up in Gatesville, Texas, and played in the dirt at the annual roping while his father, Jerry, roped. This year, after making his first Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2007, he came back and won the roping with one of the hottest heelers going, Martin Lucero.
"I remember going to that roping when I was a little kid and watching my dad rope out there," Edens said. "We're from around that area so there's a lot of older guys who we grew up watching rope and to be able to win that in front of all those guys is a neat feeling."
What wasn't a neat feeling was after he found out he had won with a 28.55-second time on four, he called his wife, Lori, who was at their daughter Jordi's softball game to tell her the good news only to find out she had been getting the play-by-play from a friend at the roping.
While it took the wind out of his sails momentarily, the $12,870 check he won for the win quickly lifted his spirits.
"It was a really good deal," he said. "At a roping like that you have to be able to draw the right steers and use them and we drew the right steers and made good runs."
Edens made those good runs aboard his big brown horse Radar.
"That roping is kind of tricky," Edens added. "You have to score good. Some of the steers ran really fast and some that were slow that you had to see a little more on. You just had to watch them when they came in there and see what you had. Luckily, we drew the same steer twice. Our first one and our second one was the same steer and we were 6.6 on him both times [placing second in the first round]. To get a good steer like that and be able to use him gave us some distance from the rest of the pack and let us rope a little safer."
Meanwhile, for Lucero, the win is just another in a string he's put together this spring. He won the Crawfish Roping in Llano as well as the Buc Days Pro Rodeo in Corpus Christi-both with rodeo partner Jojo Lemond.
"I've been doing well, I've had pretty good luck here lately," Lucero said. "That roping has a lot of history. It's one I've always wanted to win, but it's a hard roping to win. You have to draw really well. Things just shaped up right."
What's more, Lucero-who hasn't rodeoed hard since his last NFR in 2002-is riding the best horse he has ever owned. Spiderman, he calls him, he bought from his business partners about three years ago.
"He's really solid and real easy to rope on. He can really run and go fast and he lets me catch."
Their first three runs were so solid, there was almost no pressure coming into the final go as the high call team.
Not that Tee Woolman didn't try his best to put the heat on the leaders. He and Kory Koontz turned in a 5.98-second short round time, which bumped them to the second-place spot. Woolman also wound up fourth with Rich Skelton. Al Bach, who was fifth call, missed one for David Key. However, Key turned around and had a back-to-back call with Clay O'Brien Cooper and they had a good run to finish third. Koontz had two more great chances in the top three-with David Key and Travis Tryan-and had no luck. Steve Northcutt, heeling for Joel Bach, finished fifth.
"We come back to the short round and had to be 9.6 to win the roping," Edens said. "It could have been a lot faster. There were a couple of really good teams in front of us that had some bad luck and left it open for us, so we just drew another good steer and made a good run."
"Tommy roped outstanding," Lucero said. "He turned a really good steer and we had a good chance to win if we caught the last one and that's where my horse is really good. If you just need to catch, he'll let you, he won't take anything away."
While the two ropers' careers intersected at the Windy Ryon, they are each on a different trajectory. Lucero, who started staying closer to home after his daughter Gabrielle was born to work in small loan brokerage, is going to crack back out after a successful winter and spring.
"Me and Jojo roped all last summer and did well,"
he said. "So we thought we'd try and rodeo this winter and spring. We've done really well, so we're going to go to some of the summer rodeos and see if we can make the Finals."
Edens, meanwhile, plans to stay in Texas and hit the amateur and circuit rodeos and develop his burgeoning metal barn and fencing business.
"I'm going to stay home this year," he said. "I missed a lot with my little girl last summer. We're going to go to the circuit rodeos and amateur rodeos. I put in metal buildings and build fence and stuff, and it's gotten really busy in this past month, so I've got a lot to do this summer. I'm going to stay at the house while business is good."
In the calf roping, local tough Michael Akins beat out world champions and Wrangler NFR qualifiers including Joe Beaver, Blair Burk, Cody Ohl, Stran Smith and Clint Cooper by roping three calves in 29.82 seconds.
Cody Ohl, riding his superhorse Luke, finished second with a 32.15 time.
"Any time you can beat Cody Ohl, it's been a good day," Akins said. "It doesn't even matter if you win third or fourth, anytime you beat him is a good day."
The Whitesboro, Texas, concrete contractor made two solid runs in the go-rounds but didn't place until a 9.2 in the short, which was good enough to outdistance the household names for the average title.
Akins rodeoed last year and stayed in the top 20 until he ran out of money in July. However, he managed to stay ranked high enough to garner an invitation to the Windy Ryon.
"I've got the best horse I've ever had in my life right now," he said. "He's a 15-year-old Quarter Horse. I bought him from a guy named Tom Walker. He's a well-known calf roper and he could dang sure beat you back when he was going. I watched the horse for four years and finally decided I needed a better one and offered to buy him."
Akins feels that the horse, Punch, is good enough to make him competitive professionally, but just doesn't have the financial security to step out and leave his wife, Jana, at home with their two young sons, Walker and Jhett, for the rodeo road.
"It's more of a fun deal for me, I don't do it for a living for sure," he said. "It's a pretty prestigious deal to win that deal around here."
Beating out the best in the world and winning $6,028 would be fun for anybody.
All-around hand Cash Myers repeated as steer roping champion at the Windy Ryon by roping four steers in 53.9 seconds-including an 11.7-second short go-winning run.
"Trevor [Brazile] was in the lead and then me and then Guy [Allen] and that's the way it was last year," Myers said of the call back order. "Trevor had a little bit of bad luck, his steer wasn't very good and his horse drug off and then I won the short round and moved up to first and Guy was second. Trevor won fourth with the bad luck. I had a really good steer on the last steer. He didn't run real hard and let me catch up quick and it was a good steer to help me move up."
Incidentally, last year the 18-time World Champion Allen finished second to Myers as well. The biggest difference for Myers this year was his mount. Tarzan, the 2005 PRCA/AQHA steer roping horse of the year is battling an injury suffered in Odessa, so Myers has been riding Chuck Ball's horse Casino.
"He's a real solid, good horse," Myers said. "I've rode him at about six ropings and he really worked good and has been good to have."
In addition to the two steer roping titles, Myers has also won the calf roping title there.
"It's a good roping. I had things go my way and it was a lot of fun to win. I've had a lot of luck there at that arena," Myers said. "This year they had it back outdoors [organizers held it in a covered arena last year due to heavy rains]. It's sure a good roping to have outdoors and it's a good arena and the crowd really likes it. I drew good and had one steer that run and kind of tried and I had my best run on him. I didn't win anything on him, but I got by one there."
While he didn't win anything on that one, his total earnings came to $7,950.
In the women's team roping, Laura Coe and Diana Lewis were the only team out of 200 to catch all four-in 59.65 seconds-and won $6,976 apiece. Wade Lewis won the senior steer roping with a 57.9-second time on three and took $2,474 home. In the breakaway roping, Lari Dee Guy outdistanced the field with a 9.25-second time on three head. She won $2,038. Double muggers Jim and Chance Shafer of the B&S Ranch won that event and $3,000.