Bray Armes, from Pilot Point, Texas, competes in the steer wrestling portion of the Elite Rodeo Athletes Premier Tour on Friday at the Bank of the Cascades Center at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center in Redmond. Photo by Ryan Brennecke/The Bulletin
If you go
What: Elite Rodeo Athletes Premier Tour event, hosted by High Desert Stampede
When: 7:30 tonight
Where: Bank of the Cascades Center at the Deschutes County Fair & Expo Center, Redmond.
REDMOND — A rowdy, packed crowd of nearly 4,000 roared its approval as the sport of rodeo ushered in a new era Friday night at the Bank of the Cascades Center.
“The Outsiders” by Eric Church blared on the loudspeakers as many of the world’s best rodeo riders were introduced to Central Oregon on the first stop of the inaugural Elite Rodeo Athletes Premier Tour.
One local cowboy looked on from among the crowd with a grin.
“Oh, it’s awesome,” said Redmond’s Steven Peebles, the reigning Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association world bareback champion, who was scheduled to compete in the Redmond event but broke his back last month in an ATV accident and will be out of action for about two more months.
“It looks like about every seat is sold out. This is awesome. This is a dream that we’ve always had and for everybody to show up here and support it, it’s awesome. There’s a bigger rodeo following around here than everybody thinks there is, and it’s pretty cool to see that.”
The $4.6 million tour includes more than 80 of the top cowboys and cowgirls in pro rodeo. Redmond is the first of nine stops on the tour, which is scheduled to conclude with the ERA’s championship finals Nov. 9-13 at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
The ERA is the result of a number of the best rodeo riders in the country banding together in an attempt to better their sport. They believe the new ERA organization and its Premier Tour — which pits the top rodeo riders against each other in a streamlined, nine-event season — will help make rodeo more fan-friendly and offer a more viable career to rodeo cowboys and cowgirls.
Many of the ERA competitors will no longer ride in rodeos staged by the PRCA, the longtime governing body of pro rodeo, as the ERA decided last month not to continue with a pending antitrust class action lawsuit against the PRCA.
Perhaps “The Outsiders” was a well-planned musical choice. They might be considered outsiders by some, but the ERA rodeo riders are no doubt some of the best in the sport, with 135 world titles represented among them.
Peebles was disappointed that he could not compete in the debut ERA event in his hometown, but he enjoyed watching many of the sport’s best rope and ride.
“It’s very hard,” Peebles said. “Just seeing and watching the introductions, to not be able to be down there in my hometown, it sucks. It’s pretty hard to swallow. But it is what it is. And I’m just glad the event’s going good, and I’m glad everybody came out here to support it. Everything’s going the way it should be.
“I like to watch every event, because you’re watching the top guys.”
Friday night’s events included bull riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, barrel racing and bareback riding.
Friday night’s payouts totaled $100,000, including $3,625 awarded to the winner of each event.
In the bareback, the final event of the night, Richmond Champion, of The Woodlands, Texas, won with 87 points.
The ERA debut started out with bull riding, and Chandler Bownds, of Lubbock, Texas, claimed victory in that event with a score of 86.5.
“It’s exciting,” Bownds said. “It’s a big step in my career.”
In steer wrestling, Stockton Graves, of Marshall, Missouri, won with a time of 3.67 seconds.
“There’s gonna be a lot of pressure, because these are the best in the world,” Graves said. “And we want to compete with the best in the world.”
Bradley Harter, of Weatherford, Texas, won saddle bronc riding with a score of 88.5.
Derrick Begay, of Winslow, Arizona, and Clay O’Brien Cooper, of Gardnerville, Nevada, won the team roping with a time of 4.01 seconds.
In barrel racing, Callie Duperier, of Boerne, Texas, won with a time of 14.6 seconds.
Trevor Brazile, the most decorated rodeo cowboy of all time with 23 world titles, won the tie-down roping event with a time of 7.61 seconds.
Brazile, of Decatur, Texas, said that ERA events are designed with the fans in mind.
“Just seein’ the kids here, the fans, it’s come full circle,” Brazile said. “Fans have been so good at rodeo for so long, and I feel we’ve underserved them. It’s time we give ’em a heapin’ helpin’.”
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