ProRodeo Hall of Fame Class of 2023 Announced

ProRodeo Hall of Fame Class of 2023 Announced

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Steer wrestler Luke Branquinho, a five-time PRCA World Champion, heads up a star-studded 2023 induction class for the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

Branquinho is joined by two-time PRCA World Champion Saddle Bronc rider Cody Wright (2008 and 2010), World Champion Team Roper Doyle Gellerman (1981), pickup man Kenny Clabaugh, rodeo notables Butch Knowles and Tom Feller and standout bareback horse Night Jacket, rodeo committees from the St. Paul (Ore.) Rodeo and Cowtown Rodeo in Pilesgrove, N.J., and barrel racer Sherry (Combs) Johnson, the 1962 WPRA World Champion and WPRA notable Fay Ann Horton Leach.

The 2023 Ken Stemler Pioneer Award, which recognizes those who have provided groundbreaking, innovative ideas and forward thinking that help the development, advancement, and success of the PRCA and or the Hall of Fame and their missions is being awarded to Bryan McDonald, former bull rider and National Finals Rodeo judge. His foresight on day money and work with PROCOM have set the industry apart.

“It certainly wasn’t expected that’s for sure,” McDonald said. “It’s a great honor to be in the presence of all those people, knowing what they have contributed and did for the sport throughout the years. It’s pretty heavy company.”

They will be enshrined July 15 during ceremonies at the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Branquinho, who won world championships in 2004, 2008, 2011-12 and 2014, is second all-time in ProRodeo steer wrestling world championships behind only Homer Pettigrew, who had six.

“I don’t even know if words can describe it,” Branquinho said when informed of his induction. “A guy starts his rodeo career just wanting to be the best that he can and win a world championship and to win five is pretty special. Then to be able to consider myself as one of the greatest with what you guys are saying being inducted to the Hall, I don’t have words to describe it. Some of my heroes are in there obviously, John W. Jones Jr. and John W. Jones Sr., and a lot of the California cowboys that helped put ProRodeo on the map and to be able to be in that Hall with them is very special.”

Branquinho, who was known for booty shake, qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo 14 times – 2001-04, 2006-15 – and won the average three times in 2008, 2011 and 2014. He has the record for most NFR rounds won by a steer wrestler at 25.

Cody Wright comes from the storied Wright family of saddle bronc riders as his brothers Jesse (2012) and Spencer (2014) also won PRCA World Championships as have his sons, Ryder (2017 and 2020) and Stetson (2021). Stetson has won a total of seven world championships – four in all-around (2019-22), two in bull riding (2020 and 2022) and one in saddle bronc riding in 2021.

“Really?” said Cody, when told of his induction. “You didn’t give me much time to come up with any type of emotions, but it is definitely a great honor to be put in there just because of the people who are in there. I really don’t even know what to say. I would definitely say winning my first and second world championships were memorable and winning the second one made the first one that much sweeter to me. Probably more so than me winning world titles was to watch my boys win.”

Cody qualified for the NFR 13 times from 2003-14, and 2016.

In 1981, Gellerman, a header, roping with partner Walt Woodard, won the team roping world championship.

Gellerman qualified for the NFR 25 times, the fifth most by any team roper in PRCA history.

“It means everything to me really, it’s quite an honor,” Gellerman said. “When I started my career, it wasn’t anything I really even thought about. It was one of those things, where if it happened it happened, if it didn’t, I was good with it.

“Winning a world championship was something I wanted since I was a kid. That was one of my goals and I got that accomplished. So, I’d say that was my most memorable moment.”

By nature, Clabaugh wasn’t about the spotlight at all. He didn’t seek attention nor boast about his accomplishments.

However, after being selected as a pickup man for the NFR six times, he didn’t go unnoticed by the ProRodeo Hall of Fame selection committee.

“Oh my gosh, are you serious? This means everything to me, I’m really in shock,” Clabaugh said. “This isn’t even something that I thought would be possible when I was picking up at rodeos. It was quite a life and an enjoyable life that’s for sure. I’m looking forward to getting out to Colorado Springs, but right now I’m still in shock this is happening.”

Knowles made a name for himself as a TV commentator, including countless broadcasts from the NFR. He also qualified for the NFR in saddle bronc riding in 1981, 1983, and 1986-87. He won the NFR average in 1987.

“That’s pretty humbling, holy cow. For a guy that does a lot of talking I don’t have a ton of words to say right now. This is the last thing that I ever thought would happen. It is quite an honor, it’s probably not the place that I feel like I should be. But it’s an honor to be thought of that way, it really is.

“I’ve never ever thought my place would be in the Hall of Fame, I’m just that type of guy. I’ve enjoyed the ride that I’ve had. I look up to all those guys in the Hall of Fame and I think they’ve made incredible marks in the sport of rodeo in their lives.”

Feller is a cowboy through and through. His loyalty to the sport of rodeo and his commitment to ProRodeo programs such as the Justin Sportsmedicine team and the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund gained him entrance into the Hall.

Feller also was a barrelman at the NFR in 1981 and was an alternate in 1976, 1982, and 1985.

“This is mind-boggling,” Feller said. “This is not anything I would have ever thought about. I think the only thing that stands out is the people in the business. They are lifelong friends and people who you can count on.”

Famous “Night Jacket” raised by Jim and Maggie Zinser, who founded J Bar J Rodeo Company, is a horse that will be remembered for decades to come.
Night Jacket competed at every Wrangler National Finals Rodeo as a bareback horse from 2000-2007. During that time, the horse helped six different cowboys reach the pay window in Las Vegas. Even with Night Jacket’s success inside the arena, the horse may be more known for his star-studded offspring.

Moving from J Bar J to Pickett Pro Rodeo, NFR bucking horses like Fringe Jacket, Straight Jacket, and Night Gazer are direct descendants of Night Jacket. Many more are lighting up the ProRodeo ranks as we speak, carrying on this once in a lifetime horses’ legacy.

“I’m at a loss for words, I really am. I didn’t ever think that would happen in the lifetime that we lived,” Maggie Zinser said.

Jim shared the same sentiments.

“That horse had so many offspring that were buckers throughout their lives. It seemed like every single one of them were 20-to-22-point horses when you would buck them. Over 50 percent of them turned into fantastic horses from Night Jacket.

Cullen Pickett, who bought Night Jacket in 2009, also praised the horse.

“It means the world to us for sure. Just to be a part of that elite club is truly an hour.”

“The horse was unlike any other as far as that many offspring and colts that have moved on to be great ProRodeo animals. Not to mention he had a great bucking career as well.”

This also was a special honor for the St. Paul Rodeo.

“This is fabulous,” said Kevin Smith, a member of the St. Paul Rodeo committee. “A small town with some serious roots is a good place for rodeo and we have been one of those. Half of our board is grandsons and great grandsons of our rodeo in 1936. This is just a great honor for us to receive.”

Cowtown has had a storied rodeo tradition, but rodeo secretary Betsy Harris, who has been an integral part of the rodeo for decades couldn’t believe the phone call she received on Monday.

“Seriously,” Harris when told Cowtown Rodeo was Hall of Fame bound. “Oh, my goodness. My husband and I have been doing this for 44 years and we never saw this coming.  Our rodeo committee is just four of us, my son-in-law and daughter and my husband Grant and me. We have a huge work force that does work for us and so dedicated and wonderful. I’m really in shock not the call I was expecting. This is wonderful.”

Johnson will join the Hall of Fame alongside her world champion horse Star Plaudit “Red,” who was inducted in 2017 and her sister Florence Youree, who was inducted as a notable in the 2019 Class.

“I am in shock,” stated Johnson upon learning of her induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. “I knew when Jimmie (Munroe) called me that she wasn’t fibbing, but it is still just so hard to grasp. It is such a blessing to be put in the Hall with my horse Red and my sister. It definitely brings my career around full circle.

Born August 16, 1938, in Duncan, Oklahoma, Johnson has made her home in Addington, Oklahoma. During her career she qualified for 12 National Finals Rodeos, the first coming in 1959 at the first GRA (predecessor to the WPRA) Finals in Clayton, N.M. and the last in 1991 under the bright lights of Las Vegas, a span of four decades (1959-68, 1970, 1991).

She won her first WPRA world title in 1961 in the all-around category, but the highlight of her career would come in 1962 when she won the barrel racing world title aboard Star Plaudit “Red.”

Johnson made her mark in the National High School Association as well, winning the all-around title, barrel racing and breakaway roping titles in 1955.

Johnson gave back to the WPRA serving on the Board of Directors from 1963-1971, including a stint as the Vice President. She was named Coca-Cola Woman of the Year in 1997 and was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in 2005.

In July, she will cement her place in ProRodeo history with her induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

“When I got my card and went to the first NFR in Clayton (N.M.), I would have never dreamt of this day and what the Association has become. It is just truly a great day.”

Horton Leach led the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA-now WPRA) as a founding member, competitor, and board member. One of the 38 women who met in San Angelo, Texas, on February 28, 1948, to form the very first professional sports association created solely for women by women.

“This is quite an honor. I don’t know that I truly deserve it but know it is a big deal,” said Leach, who makes her home in Kilgore, Texas. “We worked very hard in the early years for the Association but never really got to reap the benefits, but they are now. I am so thankful the girls now can expect to make some money as we were lucky to run at $20 day money. I love to see the progress the Association and the sport of rodeo has made.”

Leach never won a world title in the barrel racing, but she qualified for nine consecutive NFRs (1959-1967). She would finish third in the world in 1962 behind Johnson and Bush.

Like many cowgirls during this era, they competed in many different events with calf roping being one of Leach’s favorites. In fact, she broke her mentor’s streak of six consecutive titles in the calf roping when she beat Bush for the world title in 1957. She would add three more of those titles in 1959, 1963 and 1971. She won the all-around in 1960, the flag race world title in 1964 and one that might surprise everyone was her bull riding title in 1966.

In 1967, Fay Ann married Billy Leach, who competed in the RCA roping calves and steer wrestling. Together they founded Billy Leach Ropes.

In 2011, she was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame under the category of Trailblazers and now she will be immortalized in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame for her dedication to building a strong foundation for women in rodeo.

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