After the ProRodeo Hall of Fame induction ceremony was canceled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the award-winning, eight-member, 2020 class of inductees got their moment in the spotlight as they were enshrined in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame Saturday.
Cody Ohl, a six-time PRCA world champion, headlined the decorated class. Ohl, who won world championships in tie-down roping (1997-98, 2001, 2003, 2006) and all-around (2001) went into the Hall of Fame with renowned bareback horse Grated Coconut of Calgary Stampede; world champion bull rider Butch Kirby (1978); stock contractor Jim Sutton Jr.; contract personnel Sunni Deb Backstrom; notable Randy Witte; the Ellensburg Rodeo; and world champion barrel racer Martha Josey (1980).
Ohl among PRCA’s best ropers in history
Cody Ohl has long been considered one of the all-time top ropers in the storied history of ProRodeo.
The tie-down roper and all-around cowboy had his name cemented with the greats of the sport.
Ohl, 47, was unable to attend the induction ceremony because of a recent illness. Kendra Santos, a longtime friend of Ohl’s, spoke on his behalf.
“When the young guns out there making headlines today were roping the dummy and tying to the post as kids, they were dreaming big and pretending to be Cody Ohl,” Santos said. “Cody ran on heart, adrenaline and emotion. He gave it his guts and he left it all in the arena. No one stopped more hearts or dropped more jaws than rodeo rock star Cody Ohl.”
When Ohl was informed of his induction, he was thrilled.
“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Ohl said. “You dream of being a world champion your whole life, and it only gets to be real for so many. To be inducted into the Hall of Fame for a great career is pretty amazing.”
After winning the 1994 PRCA Overall Rookie of the Year, the Texas cowboy collected six world champion buckles. He also qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo 20 times (1994-2001, 2003-14) and the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping three times (1999-2001).
With $3.5 million in career earnings, Ohl is second only to Trevor Brazile in total money won in ProRodeo competition.
Ohl’s most memorable run came in a round at the 2003 Wrangler NFR when he clocked a time of 6.5 seconds, tying for the third-fastest time ever witnessed in ProRodeo.
During his final trip to the Wrangler NFR in 2014, he won at least a share of first place in three rounds to extend his tie-down roping event record total to 52 round wins.
Ohl also shares the record for most NFR round wins in a single year, and he did it on two occasions. Ohl won five rounds in 2001 and 2013. The only other tie-down roper to win five rounds in a single NFR was Dave Brock in 1978.
Ohl also has the NFR record for Round 3 (6.6 seconds, 2014) and Round 4 (6.6, 2009), and shares the record in Round 7 (6.7, 2003) and Round 10 (6.5, 2003). That Round 10 time also is tied with Trevor Brazile (Round 8, 2015) for the Thomas & Mack Center arena record.
Grated Coconut was one of a kind
Calgary Stampede horse Grated Coconut was one for the ages.
The horse furthered his legacy by entering the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. Grated Coconut, 24, lives on the Calgary Stampede ranch in Hanna, Alberta.
“Within the sport of rodeo, Grated Coconut was the epitome of everything a bucking horse should be,” said Keith Marrington of the Calgary Stampede. “He was a skilled, naturally talented bucking bronc whose power, athleticism, competitive spirit and brilliance showed through his 114 performances.”
Marrington sent the acceptance speech remotely while working at the Calgary Stampede, which runs through July 18.
Marrington said Grated Coconut carried cowboys to 25 first-place checks and that 29 more
cowboys made trips to the pay window after making the whistle on this renowned horse.
“For a full decade before his retirement in 2010, Grated Coconut dominated the sport and became arguably one of the most successful bucking horses in the history of professional rodeo,” Marrington said. “Every ride was unique. He would choose new moves for every trip but always with stunningly powerful kicks. When his job was done, he would show his personality with pride and strut around the arena showing off his natural beauty.”
His accolades tell the story.
Grated Coconut was named Bareback Horse of the Year a PRCA record six times (2003-04 and 2006-09) and was the top horse of the National Finals Rodeo in 2008.
“Grated Coconut was a bucking star that drew his own fans and whose name continues to be famous amongst true rodeo fans,” Marrington said. “Professional Rodeo cowboys and fans liken Grated Coconut to Wayne Gretzky, ‘The Great One,’ of the world of rodeo. Grated Coconut continues to build and shape the future of ProRodeo. Breeding specialists marvel at Grated Coconut’s remarkable dominant genetics.
“Bucking horses are known solely for their performances in the arena, yet Grated Coconut is personable and loving in nature, and those are some of the things that make Grated Coconut so special and worthy of being honored. Although raised as part of a natural herd with little human contact, Grated Coconut’s personality is remarkable. He’s naturally compelled to seek out and enjoy the company of people.”
Grated Coconut also was inducted into the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association Hall of Fame (2012) and the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame (2013).
Longtime stock contractor Jim Sutton Jr. get HOF call
This well-deserved honor was a long time in the making for Jim Sutton Jr.
Sutton Jr. is the patriarch of Sutton Rodeo, and he and his wife, Julie, have a six-generation family operation still running strong. Sutton Rodeo is based in Onida, S.D.
Jim is now in the prestigious ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
“I don’t know how it could be any better,” said Sutton, 86. “This is a pretty big deal when you get in with people like Casey Tibbs. I really never thought about being in the (ProRodeo) Hall of Fame. I tried to rodeo as good as I could and figured I wasn’t going to get in the Hall of Fame that direction. I think our rodeo company and the people in it who are mostly family have all done well with their part, and you add it all up and it turns out pretty good.”
Jim and Julie were the recipients of the 2017 PRCA Donita Barnes Contract Personnel Lifetime Achievement Award. Julie, 85, was unable to attend the ceremony because she’s battling cancer.
“She desperately wanted to get through this weekend,” said Kim Sutton, Jim and Julie’s daughter. “She was so close. She’s weak. We were pretty sad, and Jim didn’t want to come, and she told him, ‘You are going. This is the honor of a lifetime.’
“We are having a hard time. It has been a pretty emotional weekend for us.”
Sutton Rodeo has won three PRCA Horse of the Year awards: saddle bronc horse Deep Water in 1979, bareback horse Big Bud in 1985 and saddle bronc horse Chuckulator in 2012. Chuckulator also was the top saddle bronc horse of the 2012 NFR. Sutton Rodeo stock has been selected to perform at every NFR but one since the NFR’s inception in 1959.
Jim and Julie took the company to the next level with a focus on production and innovation. Jim began the Black Hills Stock Show Rodeo in 1978, a rodeo nominated 15 times for PRCA Indoor Rodeo of the Year, winning the award in 2002-03.
The roots of the Suttons in the rodeo business can be traced to 1926 when the Edwin Sutton family – Jim’s grandfather – began producing rodeos on their home ranch in Sully County, S.D.
James H. Sutton Sr. took Sutton Rodeo to the next stage in the 1950s when he entered a partnership with Erv Korkow. As one of the first members of the Rodeo Cowboys Association, Sutton/Korkow stock performed at the first National Finals Rodeo in Dallas in 1959.
James was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1982. In 1968, James (Jim) Sutton Jr. became a partner with his dad, forming Sutton Rodeo Company.
Kirby joins rodeo heroes
Butch Kirby’s 1978 gold buckle took a slight detour one night.
Kirby was heading from Tucson, Ariz., to Houston when fellow bull rider Charlie Sampson hitched a ride. They stopped to spend a night in a hotel.
Sampson hadn’t been in the PRCA long, a few years at most. While Kirby showered, Sampson picked up Kirby’s gold buckle and tried it on.
A couple decades later, Sampson, who won the world title in 1982 and went into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1996, told Kirby, “I owe you an apology,” Kirby recounted. “I said, ‘For what?’”
Sampson copped to trying on Kirby’s world championship buckle, saying, “I got your gold buckle out and I put it on. You know what, Butch, it fit.”
Kirby’s response: “You don’t have to apologize, I think it’s a great story.”
On Saturday, it was Kirby’s turn to follow Sampson, joining him in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
Kirby earned $15,000 at the 1978 National Finals Rodeo to claim the bull riding world title. He qualified for the NFR eight times (1973-75, 77-78, 80-82), also finishing third twice and fifth once.
Kirby still hasn’t quit rodeo. Instead, he’s been a PRCA pro official for 25 years and judged the NFR for 27 years. In fact, if he didn’t have Hall of Fame obligations Saturday, he likely would’ve been at a rodeo.
“My boss would probably have me working,” Kirby laughed. “He (Chris Horton, Director of Rodeo Approvals) said, ‘Butch, I have to give you a week off.’ I told him he could have had me judging the rodeo here in Colorado Springs.”
Originally born in Salem, N.J., Kirby made Stephenville, Texas, his hometown. Kirby started rodeoing at a young age, performing as a trick rider with his brothers.
In 1975, he and his brothers Sandy and Kaye were the first trio of brothers to qualify for the Finals in the same year, with Butch qualifying in bull riding, Kaye in bareback riding and Sandy in both of those events.
“It’s an honor to go into the Hall of Fame,” Kirby said, adding he didn’t believe he deserved it. “All my heroes are above me. I’ve always looked up to them. Now I’m going to go into the Hall of Fame and stand next to them. I don’t put myself on a pedestal. I’m still judging, I’m still working for the PRCA in the sport that I love. I still have a lot to give.”
Small-town Ellensburg boasts big-time rodeo
The Ellensburg (Wash.) Rodeo has been capturing the hearts of rodeo fans since 1923. The rodeo is held over Labor Day Weekend each year, bringing an important ProRodeo Tour stop to the Pacific Northwest.
On Saturday, the Ellensburg Rodeo was the one being honored, as a 2020 inductee of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
“It’s a huge honor for not only us on the board, but for the entire community of Ellensburg,” said Jerry Doolin, Ellensburg Rodeo President. “It’s really rewarding because we’ve seen just how hard everyone works to make this the best rodeo in the country.”
Over the years, the rodeo has grown into one of the largest ProRodeo competitions of the season. In 2019, the self-proclaimed “Rodeo City” boasted a $368,274 payout, a staggering amount considering the population of Ellensburg is about 21,000.
“This rodeo has been a part of our community forever, long before any of us were alive,” said Rick Cole, arena director at Ellensburg Rodeo. “The hospitality of the Ellensburg community is what makes our event so special; everybody volunteers, everybody steps up, it really is an all-encompassing endeavor by the whole community.”
Since 1998, three Ellensburg Rodeo directors have been awarded the prestigious John Justin Committeeman of the Year Award – Ken MacRae (1998), Joel Smith (2007) and Steve Adler (2013). The award highlights the commitment of the 100% volunteer-run organization, which is something the tight-knit community takes pride in.
“Our rodeo is put on by members of the community, for our community,” said Ron Mitchell, former Director of the Ellensburg Rodeo. “Everyone from our 17 board members to those people who work behind the scenes in the arena make this event possible. We all push each other to be better and to put on the best rodeo we can.”
Backstrom one of all-time greats among secretaries
Sunni Deb Backstrom is an 18-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo Secretary (1991, 2000, 2003, 2006-2020) who has earned PRCA Secretary of the Year 11 times (including in 2020), more than any other recipient, for being the best in the business.
She served as the contestant office manager at the 2005 NFR and three times as an NFR timer (1975, 1980, 1984). Her mother, Ellen, was inducted as contract personnel in 1995. They are the first mother and daughter to be inducted into the Hall.
“I didn’t think I’d be as emotional today about myself (being inducted) as I was about my mom,” Sunni Deb said. “I am rodeo, and it runs in my blood. The PRCA runs straight through my veins.”
Ellen Backstrom was a four-time NFR secretary and was elected in the late 1970’s to serve on the PRCA Board of Directors as contract personnel director, making her the only female to ever serve on the Board.
“My mom was the first woman inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame,” said Sunni Deb, 63. “It was one of my proudest days. My entire life is the rodeo industry and always has been. I can’t tell you how much this means to me.”
Sunni Deb received her first Rodeo Cowboys Association card in 1968 and PRCA card in 1976. She works about 120 performances a year for prestigious rodeos such as Denver, San Antonio, Houston, Nampa, Idaho, and Waco, Texas. She has worked for Cervi Championship Rodeo since 1980.
Sunni Deb wants to work in rodeo until she’s no longer effective at her job.
“I love what I do, I love every aspect of our business,” she said. “I gave up having kids and a real family life because this is what I wanted to do. I’ve given up a lot, and I don’t know that everybody wants to give that much up. I know what this honor means, but it still hasn’t really sunk in. It’s forever and the ultimate honor in our business.”
Witte writes way into Hall
Randy Witte is a familiar name to rodeo fans. For 36 years he dedicated himself to the sport of rodeo, not through competition, but through his writing.
Now, it’s time for his name to go into the history books alongside the greats he spent most of his life covering.
“I interviewed a lot of inductees and champions throughout my career, now I’m going to be right alongside them, it’s truly unbelievable,” Witte said. “It’s one of those things, you just have to sit back and enjoy the moment.”
Witte was inducted as part of the Class of 2020 ProRodeo Hall of Fame under the Notable category.
His rodeo career began in college at Colorado State University, Fort Collins, where he got on the occasional bull as a member of the CSU rodeo club.
“I jumped on a few bulls back when I was in college, Jerome Robinson talked me into it, but I always knew I wanted to be a writer,” Witte said. “I fell in love with the sport of rodeo right away, so I decided to combine the two of them. The rest is history.”
Witte enjoyed his days of competition in college rodeo and in the Rodeo Cowboys Association, but he knew early on his future was as a rodeo writer, rather than a rider. Witte worked on the RCA news bureau and wrote for ProRodeo Sports News for seven years before transitioning to Western Horseman, where he worked for 29 years, the last 17 as the publisher.
For a man that spent most of his life putting words on paper, the moment he found out he would become a Hall of Famer he was speechless.
“When I got the call all I could think about is this has to be some kind of practical joke, right?” Witte said. “But It’s truly an honor and one that’s extremely special for me.”
Josey rewarded for all-around work
Many Women’s Professional Rodeo Association world champions credit Martha Josey with helping them achieve their goals.
On Saturday, Josey’s talents and those she helped discover landed the 11-time NFR qualifier in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
Josey made the NFR 11 times on six different horses across four consecutive decades. She won the barrel racing world title in 1980 on Sonny Bit O’ Both, the same year the duo also won the AQHA World Championship, a feat that’s never been duplicated.
A highlight of her career was competing in the rodeo exhibition during the Cultural Olympiad at the 1988 Winter Olympic Games in Calgary, Alberta, winning an individual bronze medal and helping Team USA win the team title.
“This is such an elite bunch of people who are being inducted this weekend,” Josey said. “I’m just honored to be with all of them.”
Josey, born in 1938 in Longview, Texas, was a true all-around cowgirl, riding bulls and broncs, cutting horses, tying goats and roping calves while competing in all-girl rodeos. In 1969, Josey won the reserve all-around world championship title in the Girls Rodeo Association.
Not only did she make a name for herself in the arena but also gave back to the sport through her countless clinics. She and husband, R.E., started conducting barrel racing clinics in 1967 at their ranch in Karnack, Texas.
Her clinics have grown to average more than 2,000 students annually with students ranging in age from 5 to 80, and many return yearly to participate in the annual Josey Reunion Barrel Race.
Josey enjoyed her days leading up to the induction ceremony.
“The whole highlight is getting to see so many people and getting to see the beautiful city of Colorado Springs again because I rodeoed in this part of the country so much,” she said. “Everything has been so wonderful.”
To watch the 2020 ProRodeo Hall of Fame induction ceremony go to prororodeo.com.
(Press release courtesy of Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.)