Considering the world-class lineup that had been assembled for the 2014 Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping, it was a little surprising when much of the "buzz" inside the Osage County Fairgrounds Arena was generated by a teenaged tie-down roper who wasn’t even entered in the main event.
Tyler Milligan of Pawhuskan took first place in Saturday’s matched calf roping, which was held as diversionary event during the breaks between the rounds of the 61st-annual invitational.
The 17-year-old won in impressive fashion by tying down his six head in a total time of 75.01 seconds.
For the sixth and final attempt, Milligan needed to post a time of 13 seconds or better to secure the victory. He made it with plenty to spare and clinched top prize by recording an 11.94. The clutch performance came as no surprise to those who have been watching his developing career.
The Osage County youth has been on a pretty good roll during the past 10 months. At the 2013 International Finals Youth Rodeo, Milligan had to break 11 seconds on his last try in order to claim first in the tie-down. He notched a 10.3 and took home the title.
Later last year, Milligan began expanding his schedule as a team-roping header. It paid off — big time.
Milligan and his heeler, Jake Cooper Clay of Sapulpa, started off by winning a junior title (with associated prize money of more than $1,400).
In late October, they claimed more than $108,000 in the National Finals Team Roping at the Oklahoma City Fairgrounds.
Not bad for a guy who considers himself "a tie-down roper who does some team roping." Milligan currently is the state champion in tie-down.
The Okesa-area resident has worked hard to get where he is in the roping world. He is home-schooled, which makes it easier to maintain a rigorous practice schedule as well as allowing for traveling to events all around Oklahoma, as well as out-of-state.
In the last few weeks, Milligan also competed in rodeos in Tonganaxie, Kan., Owasso and Kellyville. He admitted to being "more nervous than I usually am" in last week’s event at Pawhuska.
"It wasn’t so much that I was thinking about all the great ropers that were out there watching," Milligan said. "It was more because of where it was being held — even though it was so close to home."
Next month, Milligan will be heading back to Wyoming to again take part in the National High School Finals Rodeo. He won a national junior high title in 2011 but has not drawn well in his previous trips to the high school event.
The rest of the summer will be filled with ARCA and ICRA rodeos at which Milligan will compete in both tie-down and team roping. His regular partner in the team events will be Sawyer Barham of Ochelata.
According to Milligan, he’s been riding horses and roping "for as long as I can remember." And, he may soon be continuing his rodeo career at the collegiate level. (Tarleton State in Stephensville, Texas, is one of the schools he’s reportedly considering.)
Milligan said he was introduced to roping by his father, Steve, and grandfather, Ernie. He now has a practice facility at his home.
The young Pawhuskan added that he is currently breaking in a couple of new horses that he recently got from PRCA Champion Cowboy Trevor Brazile, whose record 19 World titles include four in steer roping and three in tie-down.
"You’ve got to have good horses to be competitive, and my horses deserve a lot of the credit for the success I’ve had," said the teenager, adding: "I just want to keep working on my roping and see where it takes me."