By Frank J. Buchman
“The show will go on.”
E.C. Emmett Roberts insisted that a number of times when workers contended that the Flint Hills Rodeo should be canceled.
Nope, in 82 years, the real life Western tradition continued without fail even when Roberts wasn’t horseback guiding the action.
However, exception, which surely would have been the founder’s dismay, came in 2020, with the rodeo cancelation due to coronavirus.
“The ‘show will go on’ this year,’” exclaimed Buck Bailey, rodeo association president.
“We’re moving forward with the 83rd Flint Hills Rodeo at Strong City, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, May 3-4-5.
“After cancelation in 2020, the Flint Hills Rodeo Association is working to make this year’s rodeo the best ever,” Bailey assured.
“The rodeo actually began with regular practices to becoming pasture rodeos at Mr. Roberts’ ranch,” Bailey said. “The year 1937 is marked as the birthdate of the rodeo. It was only a natural step when Mr. Roberts put on the Chase County Rodeo in 1938.”
Name was officially changed to Flint Hills Rodeo the following year. “The rodeo kept going without fail until 2020,|” Bailey clarified. “Still, we insist our rodeo has the distinction of being the oldest consecutive rodeo in Kansas.”
From the meager beginning, Roberts Rodeo Company provided livestock for the rodeo in the association arena built in 1948. The senior Roberts ramrodded the action while serving as pickup man, and three children became rodeo champions.
Marjorie, generally called Marge, Roberts’ first child, won women’s bronc riding at Cheyenne, Wyoming, a world’s championship equivalent, in 1940. Ken Roberts was the world champion bull Rider in 1943, 1944, and 1945.
Gerald Roberts was the first Kansan to become a world champion all-around cowboy in 1942 and again in 1948.
Riding broncs and bulls, Gerald Roberts was the only cowboy winning both Turtle Association and Rodeo Cowboys Association (RCA) championships. The RCA was predecessor to the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) under which the Flint Hills Rodeo is now sanctioned.
Emmett’s wife Clara kept ranch home fires burning while their other children Clifford, Howard, and Gloria always had rodeo duties. A legend in his own time, Roberts was recognized “Mr. Rodeo” at the 1979 National Western Livestock Show, Denver, Colorado. A six-by-20-foot mural honoring the Roberts family is displayed on the Flint Hills Rodeo grounds.
Roberts Rodeo Company was dispersed to the Flint Hills Rodeo Association which had the rodeo livestock several years. However, being a rodeo contractor became too much for the local board of directors. They sold out and the association directors have now hired major acclaimed professional rodeo producers for some time.
“Rodeo weekend schedule features evening performances Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 o’clock,” said Toni Schneider, rodeo board member.
“The rodeo museum and a trade show open each evening at 5:30,” noted Schneider, Chase County Chamber of Commerce director. “There will also be a kid’s ‘buckaroo/ buckarette’ rodeo at 6 o’clock, with all youngsters invited to participate.”
Thursday, June 3, is Family Night at the rodeo with children 12 and under admitted free. The first 200 kids through the east gate are to receive a free hot dog.
Friday, June 4, is Military Night including recognition and free admittance with identification for all who’ve served in the military.
Dances for all cowboys and cowgirls with a rodeo ticket are planned after both Friday and Saturday evening performances. Music on Friday is to be provided by Braxton Keith & The Contraband, while Whiskey River Band plays Saturday evening.
“The rodeo parade Saturday beginning at 2 o’clock in Cottonwood Falls will end at the Strong City arena,” Schneider said. “Everybody is welcome to participate or bring chairs and watch along the parade route.”
Cowboys and livestock are key ingredients of rodeo. “We’ll have the best of both at this year’s rodeo,” promised Bailey, grandson of Elmore Stout, former rodeo association president.
“Several present and former world champions plus leaders in the PRCA standings at this time will be entered,” Bailey added.
Contestants come to compete in bareback bronc riding, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, team roping and bull riding. There’ll be professional sanctioned barrel racing for cowgirls as well as calf scramble and mutton busting for children.
Binion and Chase Cervi of Cervi Championship Rodeo, Greeley, Colorado, are again contracting the livestock including National Finals Rodeo qualifiers.
When their dad, Mike purchased the company in 1967, all he wanted was to provide quality livestock for fans’ enjoyment. “Today Cervi Championship Rodeo performs beyond his dreams, as they are one of the leading professional rodeo producers,” Bailey added.
Womanizer, born and raised on the Cervi Ranch, was voted as the 2020 PRCA Saddle Bronc Horse of the Year. “Even though his career has just begun, Womanizer has consistently been one of the highest marked horses at every rodeo where he’s bucked,” Bailey said.
Announcer Roger Mooney is also in a repeat performance calling the action and excitement for this year’s Flint Hills Rodeo.
Born and raised in Ellijay, Georgia, Mooney’s career began by accident in 1984. While in college, he stepped in for the scheduled rodeo announcer who became ill. Mooney has announced the National Finals Rodeo, Calgary Stampede, the Circuit Finals Rodeo, and the National High School Rodeo Finals.
“Justin Rumford, Abbyville native, will provide rodeo entertainment as the clown and funnyman,” Schneider said. “Now of Ponca City, Oklahoma, Rumford won the PRCA Clown of the Year Award, a record-breaking nine times, from 2012 through 2020.”
Jimmy Lee, San Angelo, Texas, will serve as the rodeo bullfighter, distracting angry bulls after their riders are bucked off. “I’ve always liked to help people. When a cowboy is in a bind, I try to help them out,” said Lee, a former firefighter.
“Cattle country is the Flint Hills where working cowboys make their living; no more appropriate place for rodeo,” Schneider commented.
“Entertainment takes many forms, and the Flint Hills Rodeo withstands test of time as best for family enjoyment,” Bailey declared.
Information can be found at www.flinthillsrodeo.org.
In tradition began more than eight decades ago, the annual Flint Hills Rodeo at Strong City remains in the former front yard of E.C. Roberts who started the longtime Western action. Contestants from throughout United States will gather June 3-4-5, for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association competition. Womanizer, the 2020 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Saddle Bronc Horse of the Year, performed at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in front of 75,000 fans. He’ll be in action this weekend during the Flint Hills Rodeo at Strong City.
World champion all-around cowboy Gerald Roberts rides A Wild One at the Flint Hills Rodeo in the 1940s. This year’s rodeo is at Strong City, June 3-4-5. E.C. and Clara Roberts and family were instrumental in formation of the Flint Hills Rodeo at Strong City more than eight decades ago. Gathered in the early 1940s, they’re Ken, Gerald, Clifford, Howard, E.C., Clara, Marge and Gloria.