JJ Hampton only has one gear, and that’s wide open. Full-throttle. Go-for-first. Every. Single. Time. The same can be said for her young-gun, tie-down-roping-phenom nephew, Marty Yates.
The current leader of the World Champions Rodeo Alliance (WCRA) breakaway roping pack is a 17-time Professional Women’s Rodeo Association world champion, and is a dominant force in more than one arena. Hampton also is a perennial top-producing agent in the Stephenville Association of Realtors, who’s also a regular in the elite club for more than $30 million a year in sales.
Hampton is the wife of husband Ricky Prince, and mom to son Kason, 9. She’s also twice the age of most of her rodeo rivals.
“I’m 47 years old, and proud of it,” said the Stephenville native, who answers to “Aunt JJ” to 24-year-old Yates, who’s currently the fifth-ranked WCRA tie-down roper. “I’ve rodeoed my whole life, and I still compete at a high level. People should keep chasing their dreams at every age, and I’m blessed and proud to be able to try hard, have fun, and still be good at it.”
A classic multi-tasking Wonder Woman, Hampton fields calls constantly between her rodeo and realty businesses.
“I’m lucky to be able to take my work with me, and to be able to work on it anywhere,” said Hampton, who typically takes to the road every Thursday evening, and maintains a rigorous rodeo schedule on top of her thriving realty business. “Even if I don’t win at the rodeo, by the time I leave there I’ve usually sold a house. There’s no rule that says you can’t get a deal done while sitting in a saddle, and I don’t want my clients to lose the house they want.”
Hampton’s husband and son are super supportive, as is the rest of her close-knit family from the Cowboy Capital of the World, which is the same support team that surrounds Yates, who’s headed headed to his fifth-straight Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas in December. Marty is the son of JJ’s sister, Angie, and the late, original Marty Yates, who’s known in the family as “Big Marty” and died in a car accident several months before “Little Marty” was born.
“Big Marty—Marty Paul Yates—was a good man, and he was my best friend,” JJ said. “We roped together every day, and we hauled to rodeos together. He was a wonderful man—a hard worker who tried his guts out, pushed calves for everybody, and cheered for everybody. You couldn’t find any better, and we were best buds.”
JJ and Little Marty have shared a special aunt-nephew bond all his life, and the entire family helped raise him. In this particular family, that meant spending the majority of his youth in the practice pen.
“Little Marty’s been a blessing to us all, and he’s been swinging a rope since he started walking,” JJ said. “He’s had this passion all his life, and has always worked hard at it. We never had to tell Marty it was time to practice. He was already there.”
Some of Aunt JJ’s most famous words to her prodigy nephew were, “Don’t back down and don’t give up.” But hearing that was secondary to watching her work and live it on a daily basis.
“We’re both blasters,” JJ said of the gun-slinging, go-for-broke styles they’re both famous for. “We’ve both gotten better about being more consistent. But at the end of the day, if you win a lot of firsts, they’ve really got to win third a lot to beat your firsts.
“The way I’ve always looked at it is that I’m going for first, because that’s what I want to win. That’s just the mentality I have, and Marty does, too. I want to win every rodeo. So everywhere I go, I throw my rope for first. That’s just how I go at it. That’s what keeps me hungry.”
JJ and Marty have both taken advantage of the WCRA’s Virtual Rodeo Qualifier (VRQ) system, and nominated rodeos and ropings to rack up points in order to qualify for the $500,000 WCRA Semi-Finals, which is coming right up, November 15-18 at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma (tickets available through Ticketmaster).
JJ and breakaway ropers everywhere are grateful that their event has been added to the WCRA roster.
“It’s a blessing that us breakaway ropers have a chance to rope for the big money alongside the rest of the contestants,” JJ said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for us as competitors, and our event is popular with fans, too. Back in the day, we used to celebrate when there were nine girls entered in the breakaway roping at a rodeo, because we thought it would pay so good. Now we’re getting on the same stage as the men. The fruits of our labor are finally paying off.
“What the WCRA is doing for women is sort of surreal to someone like me. I rodeo hard all summer, and if I kick butt can maybe win $25,000. The day is coming when we’ll have a chance to win that in one night. That’s phenomenal, and really, really cool for us cowgirls. People are stepping up their game, and roping faster and better. My dad (the late Johnny Wayne Hampton) always used to talk about how he wished women could rope for more money. He said if I was a man, I’d be wealthy for all the stuff I’ve won. He just didn’t think that was right. We’re finally getting our chance, and he’d be so happy about that.”
The cutoff date for contestants to nominate events for the Semi-Finals—for which the top 150 qualify (in timed events)—is October 29 (nominate now at app.wcrarodeo.com). The top-eight point-earners bypass the preliminary and progressive rounds, and advance directly into the top-eight finals at the Semi-Finals, so Hampton and Yates are both pushing to maintain their positions.
In addition to the Days of ’47 in Salt Lake City, the WCRA will host three “majors” next year, for a total of four events featuring a $1 million guaranteed payoff in 2019.
“I want to be there,” JJ said. “I rope every night after work. I have kids over all the time, and give lessons. I’m roping more now than I ever have, and I’m having a ball. My goal is to win on any calf they run in the chute, and it’s so exciting to think about all we have to shoot for now. There’s never been a better time to be a world-class breakaway roper. I don’t care what age you are, these are exciting times.”
Don’t miss out on the WCRA Rodeo Semi-Finals in Guthrie, Oklahoma! Visit WCRArodeo.com for more information.