Two teens stormed the 10th annual Wildfire Open to the World Roping for a record-smashing $100,000 February 9 in Salado, Texas.
Kelsey Parchman, 19, and Paul Eaves, who turned 18 at midnight and just a minute or two before roping their high-team steer, are the talk of the team roping town after rising from relative obscurity to outdistance the veterans at the rich roping.
Parchman's from Cumberland City, Tenn., and Eaves is from Lonedell, Mo. But both are currently calling the Lone Star State home, in the name of climbing the professional team roping ladder. Eaves' folks, Russ and Joyce, flew in from the Show-Me State to celebrate their second of four kids' 18th birthday. They honestly had no idea the Wildfire Roping was on their itinerary, but were great sports about foregoing the traditional candle-clad cake party for the Wildfire victory celebration.
"You don't get to rope for $100,000 every day," said Parchman, who won back-to-back International Professional Rodeo Association team roping titles with Stephen Britnell in 2005 and 2006, at 17 and 18. "This is as good as any roping there is. The steers are good, the arena's great and everything's so organized. This much money will buy a lot of diesel."
"I'm so happy to win this roping," Eaves added. "I'm glad to have the money, and winning a deal like this will hopefully help me get more good partners."
Parchman's now a Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rookie, and he's been roping with Cole Bigbee. He's riding an 11-year-old sorrel horse, Dakota, that he bought from reigning Champ of the World and fellow Tennessee titan turned Texan Chad Masters when the horse was 5. It was Parchman's second Wildfire Open to the World Weekend, and Eaves' first. They've roped off and on together at jackpots about three years now. Both categorize Eaves as "a catcher."
Eaves, who was home schooled since first grade by his mom, is now flying solo in his academic pursuits. He attended Allen Bach's month-long roping camp last October, and never returned home. He rents a house in the town of Millsap, Texas, and keeps his horse, 11-year-old dun Spanky, at Bach's. Eaves has only owned Spanky since December, and planned to set aside some of his Wildfire earnings to pay the horse off.
Eaves, who won first and second at the 2007 Junior World Team Roping Championship in Durant, Okla., last Thanksgiving with Oklahomans Andrew Ward and Blake Hughes, expects to fulfill his high school graduation requirements this spring. His goal is to make the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo "in a year or two." Not one to procrastinate, he sent off for his PRCA permit a few days before his 18th birthday.
Eaves' heeling heroes include Bach, Clay O'Brien Cooper, Walt Woodard and Rich Skelton. Eaves, who's a USTRC No. 9 heeler, said Bach offered up helpful advice throughout the duration of the Wildfire Open, ranging from how to better ride his horse to reminders about roping sharp.
Parchman's a USTRC No. 8 header. The way he sees it, the keys to winning the Wildfire are "being aggressive and keeping everything under control. And a good head horse is a big deal everywhere, especially when you rope fresh steers. It's harder to get by them."
The challenge of the Wildfire conditions is part of the point. It's not supposed to be easy to win $100,000, and it's not supposed to be a drawing contest. Running six fresh steers over a 17-foot score (the box is 16 feet deep) has a way of diminishing the luck factor and weeding out weak hearts. Every piece of this pricey pie is earned.
Parchman and Eaves, who roped six steers in 47.22 seconds, hauled off an unheard of $100,000 in crisp $100 bills, neatly stacked in hand-tooled leather briefcases by Double J Saddlery, and Black Gold Resistol Hats. They also won one-of-a-kind Montana Silveramiths Buckles, and-in celebration of the decade milestone-super-fancy parade saddles, which resulted from a collaborative effort between Cactus Saddlery and Montana Silversmiths, complete with 21-inch tapaderos.
The saddles are top-of-the-line replicas of 1930s Rose Bowl Parade saddles ridden by the likes of Bing Crosby, Bob Hope and Gene Autry. Cactus Saddlery Vice President Scott Thomas crafted the saddles, and Montana Silversmiths Vice President of Marketing Steve Miller decked them out with custom silver trim after Wildfire owner Billy Pipes put in a special request. Pipes has always appreciated the craftsmanship and showmanship of the old-style Bohlin saddles, and dearly loves Western traditions reminiscent of some of his favorite old John Wayne movies.
The go-twice Wildfire Open to the World, which is presented by Bloomer Trailers and sponsored by Montana Silversmiths, featured 186 teams, PRCA rules and $100,000 in added money.
Helping make it happen from Billy Pipes' passenger's seat since day one is Wildfire Open to the World Weekend Marketing Director Bill Hall. He this year rallied the support of 49 sponsors for the biggest and best event to date.
"Our goal has and always will be to provide team ropers with the finest, most professional ropings in the country, with the highest payout and the most exclusive prizeline," said Hall, a renowned auctioneer by day. "And we couldn't do that without our sponsors, who are name brands in the Western industry. Sponsors get hit up by a jillion people a day for something. We go to great lengths to make this event something special that they can be proud to be a part of.
"When Billy first asked me to do this, we had 60 days to do it and we were starting from scratch. To continue to grow this thing, we've had to dig deeper, and reach out to sponsors and ask them to belly up to the bar to help make it happen. We ask our sponsors to up the ante every year. Luckily, they haven't hung up on me yet. These people all love to rope, as do Billy and I. We all have a love for team roping."
This event, and the Wildfire Ranch facility and all its many activities, is obviously a labor of love for Billy Pipes. Consider this financial fun fact: The best year Wildfire Arena-the entire Wildfire Ranch complex now includes some 300,000 square feet under roof, including the Bloomer Trailers manufacturing plant and National Ropers Supply Western Store-has had to date came a couple years ago, when the arena "only" lost $125,000.
"These facilities will never break even in anybody's lifetime," said Pipes, who held the first Wildfire Open to the World in the barely framed-in building; ropers entered through holes that would eventually become windows. There was no concession stand, so Pipes' kids satisfied ropers' needs with a stocked ice chest. "Our position hasn't changed. We're still very proud to be in the same league as Bob Feist and George Strait's ropings. That was and still is the goal.
"Bob's basically the godfather of the big, high-dollar open team roping, and George is just King George. The fact that both of them take the time out of their lives and keep upping the ante is amazing. Bob just celebrated the 30th anniversary of the BFI, and George had his 25th Strait roping. Until one of those guys quits or dies, they'll (the Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic and George Strait Team Roping Classic) be the best ropings of all time, and we'll be striving to catch them. Those two events are all about growth and greatness."
Like Feist and Strait's, Pipes' motivations are simple and pure. It's basically a labor of love, and a commitment to voluntary community service.
"These open ropers are the heroes of our industry, and what all of us who rope aspire to be," Pipes said. "The wives, sisters, moms and sponsors all rope here, too, which is pretty cool."