Bonafide stars of steer roping due for 61st Ben Johnson event

Mike ErwinJournal-Capital

Three dozen of the world’s best steer ropers will be featured Saturday in the 61st Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping, which will be held at the outdoor arena of the Osage County Fairgrounds.

The invitational roping competition is sponsored by the Osage County Cattlemen’s Association as part of its OCCA Ranch Tour and Convention, which will be held in Pawhuska this weekend for the 80th straight year.

Introduction of the ropers is set for 1:30 p.m. and will be followed at 2 p.m. by the always-entertaining junior steer roping contests — where kids lasso dummies. The main roping event begins at 3 p.m.

Heading the list of 2014 Ben Johnson contestants is two-time defending champion Cody Lee of Gatesville, Texas. Lee claimed the last two titles after finishing among the top four in the preceding three years. Seven other past winners (of 10 previous titles) will also be returning to the compete in this year’s event.

The roster of all-star ropers for the upcoming competition has 10 of the 15 qualifiers from last year’s National Finals Steer Roping of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. Also among the invited are 21 of the top 50 ropers from the latest PRCA standings, including nine of the 15 highest-ranked PRCA ropers and six off the current top-10 list are also expected to compete on Saturday.

Among the past winners are a couple of local ropers — ‘93 champ Shorty Garten and the titlest from 1998, Rod Harness — as well as fellow Oklahomans C.A. Lauer of Buffalo (the ‘96 champion), Roland’s J.R. Magdeburg (2006), former Pawhuskan (and a winner in ‘08) Brady Garten of Claremore and the 2011 victor, Mike Chase of McAlester.

In addition to Hartness and Garten, three more Pawhuskans — Cody Garnett, Dee Kyler and Chet Herren — will vie for the title.

Herren is No. 1 in the PRCA’s latest World Standings, while Lee is in third place. In earlier Ben Johnson appearances, Herren has finished second, third and fourth. He placed seventh at last year’s National finals after spending most of the season among the top three. (Lee entered the 2013 NFSR in first place before finishing third.)

The Ben Johnson Memorial Steer Roping was started in 1954 to honor the father (and namesake) of the late Ben (Son) Johnson, the homegrown actor/cowboy for whom the local arena is named.

First out of the chute on Saturday will be Jim Davis of Ovalo, Texas, a four-time Ben Johnson champion. Only the late great Shoat Webster, with six local titles, has won the Pawhuska event more times than Davis — who notched his first local win in 1978 before adding two in the 80’s (1981 and ‘89) and another in 1999.

Webster captured the inaugural Ben Johnson Memorial championship in ‘54 over another Hall-of-Fame roper, Everett Shaw — with Pawhuska’s own Jim Snively placing third. The incomparable Webster three-peated with wins in 1955-56, when Clark McEntire (father of Reba) finished runner-up.

Snively took first place in ‘57 and McEntire won the next year’s title. Webster then reclaimed the crown in ‘59 (by again edging Everett Shaw) and won again in 1960. The last local triumph for the Lenapah legend came in 1965, when Shaw finished third and Pawhuskan Kelly Corbin placed second. (Corbin won his title the following year, when Webster fell to fourth.)

Other Oklahomans are also among the roping invitees. They are: Roger Branch of Perkins, K.W. Lauer of Buffalo, Pecos McNiel of Bristow, Brad Mohon of Claremore, Brodie and Marty Poppino of Big Cabin, Brad Prather of Skiatook, Worm Shipley of Copan, Tom Smith of Barnsdall, Darin Suit of Ames, Chuck Thomson of Piedmont, J.P. Wickett of Sallisaw, Ralph Williams of Skiatook and Kim Ziegelgruber of Edmond.

A 12-man contingent of Texas ropers will be led by the two-time defending champion of the Ben Johnson event, Cody Lee of Gatesville. Also competing from the Lone Star State are Ovalo’s Bryce Davis, Jason Evans of Huntsville, J. Tom and Vin Fisher of Andrews, Will Gasperson of Decatur, Jim Locke of Miami (the one in Texas, not Oklahoma), Dane Noyce of Hereford, Joe and Randy Wells of Cisco and Ryan Wilberg of Lott.

For this year’s Ben Johnson competition, the only contestant from outside of Oklahoma and Texas is Jesse Tierney of Hermosa, S.D.

Following the roping, the OCCA festivities will conclude with Cattlemen’s Dance, featuring the Nolan Pick Band.

Another noted roping event — the Shoat Webster Classic — will be held Sunday at Bar K Arena southwest of town.

Sponsored by the Osage Steer Roping Club, the annual event is slated to begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Kyler-owned outdoor arena. Three levels of competition will be included in the judging.

The roping is named in honor the the Hall-of-Fame Oklahoma cowboy who died a little more than a year ago.