Bright lights will be shining at the oldest consecutive rodeo in Kansas.
Likewise, this is one of the longest running professional rodeos in the world, and, as importantly, has the most unique heritage in the sport of rodeo.
It’s the 77th annual Flint Hills Rodeo Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 5-6-7, beginning each evening at 8 o’clock, in the historic rodeo arena at the north edge of Strong City, Kansas, announced Jason Lewis, rancher and president of the Flint Hills Rodeo Association.
The richest rodeo legacy surrounding the Flint Hills Rodeo was started 77 years ago by E.C. Roberts at his home west of Strong City. It was 1937, when Roberts, his sons and daughter decided to have a rodeo following their love for riding wild horses.
Neighbors from nearby and even further distance came, and it was such a success, the rodeo turned into an annual affair and training ground for what would be the famous Roberts Rodeo Family.
Ken and Gerald Roberts were multiple times world champions in bull riding and bronc riding, as well as collecting all-around championships, while daughter Marjorie was a champion cowgirl bronc rider, known for her trick riding ability as well.
Additionally, the family formed the Roberts Rodeo Company, contracting professional rodeos throughout the Midwest. When that company dispersed, the Flint Hills Rodeo Association acquired the livestock, provided livestock for the annual competition at Strong City, and contracted to rodeos throughout the country, including qualifying stock for the National Finals Rodeo.
When the senior Roberts moved to a home at the north edge of Strong City, he built an arena right out in his front yard, and the rodeo continues there today.
While the list of attractions for this year’s rodeo sanctioned again by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association is most extensive, a special noteworthiness is the return of “Cervi Brothers Rodeo Company, Padroni, Colorado, to supply the livestock for this year’s rodeo,” Lewis said.
Mike Cervi, founder of the company, began his rodeo career at the age of 14, working as a rodeo clown.
More than 60 years later, Cervi and his family own two of the largest rodeo companies in the world.
The former Beutler Brothers Rodeo Company is now known as the Beutler Brothers and Cervi Rodeo Company. The former Billy Minick Rodeo, owned originally by well-known producers Harry Knight and Gene Autry, is Cervi Championship Rodeo Company.
“With more than 800 head of bucking stock, the rodeo companies can produce an exciting rodeo with the best bucking stock in the world,” Lewis said.
In 1982 and 2001, Mike Cervi was awarded the PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year award. He is a member of the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, and has served on the PRCA Board of Directors.
“These days, his sons, Binion and Chase, and their cousin, Scott, work the day-to-day operation of the rodeo company, while Mike continues to oversee the entire operation,” Lewis said.
“In the past 46 years, Cervi Championship Rodeo Company has had more livestock selected for the National Finals Rodeo than any other stock contractors in the business,” Lewis credited.
“We are truly honored to again serve as the stock contractors for the annual Flint Hills Rodeo and look forward to providing world-class rodeo entertainment for the great folks at Strong City” Binion Cervi said.
“We know the history and traditions for upholding the Western way of life that Strong City has been known for since the 1930s, and we are excited to be a part of this for many years to come,” Cervi added.
While professional cowboys compete in the traditional rodeo events, bareback bronc riding, tie down calf roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding, team roping, and bull riding, there will again be a wild cow mugging competition every performance, specifically for local Flint Hills cowboys, who have received a special invitation to participate.
Barrel racing by Women’s Profession Rodeo Association riders from throughout the country will again add fast horses, pretty girls, color and glamour to each performance.
“This year’s Strong City rodeo is part of the RAM Series, All American Series, and the Boot Hills Casino Championship Rodeo Series, which promotes and encourages cowboys to participate in all sizes of professional rodeos in the state, with yearend awards to top contestants,” Lewis explained.
In a return engagement, Roger Mooney, Ellijay, Georgia, will announce this year’s rodeo from his big black and white Paint Horse called Flash.
Mooney’s wife, Ashley, joins in the production side of the rodeo performance providing the music and setting the atmosphere for “the greatest show on dirt.”
Special attractions are set for the youngsters again this year. Buckaroo/Buckerette Stick Horse
Rodeos, for youngsters 10 and under, on the dance floor at 6 o’clock, all three nights.
In addition, the first 200 youngsters through the gate Thursday evening will receive a gift from Flint Hills Beverages.
Another youth attraction for the Flint Hills Rodeo this year is Mutton Busting, with Cervi Championship Rodeo Company supplying the sheep. “All entrants must weigh 55 pounds or less, and be between five and seven years old. Eight entrants will ‘buck out’ from special chutes each performance,” Lewis related.
Calf scramble has also been again planned each evening. Thursday’s event will be for youth six to eight years of age, while Friday will be for nine to 11-year-olds, and Saturday, the big kids, 12-14, will be chasing ribbons on calves’ tails. Prizes are to go to the top three contestants each night.
Always a major attraction for the Flint Hills Rodeo is the Saturday afternoon, 2 o’clock, parade starting at Swope Park in Cottonwood Falls, and ending at the Strong City rodeo grounds.
“Special Western activities are planned at the rodeo grounds immediately following the parade up to time to start of the rodeo,” Lewis said.
Free dances featuring Ricky Fugitt’s “Red Dirt & Rodeo Proud” are set to follow Friday and Saturday evening performances for those with tickets from attending the rodeo.
Ethan McDonald, 25, from Abilene, and Dustin Konig, 25, Eaton, Colorado, are to serve as the rodeo bullfighters. Fighting bulls at the Kansas Professional Rodeo Association Finals and the United Bucking Bull Incorporated Donnie Gay Bull Riding Finals, McDonald will be working for his second year at the Flint Hills Rodeo.
“These guys are the most up and coming bullfighters in the business,” Lewis promised.
Justin Rumford, the PRCA Clown of the Year from Ponca City, Oklahoma, will be a special feature of this year’s rodeo.
With an itinerary worthy of a gypsy, becoming a rodeo clown might not seem like a stable or serious job. “You get to see the country,” Rumford said. “The only job is to have fun and to make sure everyone else has fun. You never know what’s going to happen in the arena.”
He makes it sound easy, but Rumford also adds that the job requires a natural sense of humor, wit and comfort in the public eye.
Growing up in the rodeo business, his grandfather Floyd Rumford Jr., dad Bronc Rumford and uncle Tom Rumford were rodeo contractors for more than six decades. Justin Rumford competed in steer wrestling and saddle bronc riding in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association from 1998 to 2008.
However, Rumford’s job as rodeo clown developed partly by happenstance when a stock contractor needed someone to fill in for the rodeo clown at the June 2010 rodeo in Clovis, N.M.
“Justin’s always been kind of a clown at heart,” said wife Ashley. “He is very funny. Justin has a wonderful sense of humor, so it was a natural fit.”
The life of a rodeo clown is on the road 10 months of the year. Ashley quit her job as a registered nurse and now travels with Rumford to avoid long separations.
The Rumford’s jokingly refer to their house in Ponca City as their “vacation home,” as they’re there only two months out of the year. The couple travel between rodeos in an RV.
“The thing about competing is, it costs a lot, and you are not guaranteed anything,” Rumford said. “As a rodeo clown, you know what you are going to make. A lot of people say, ‘Oh, you are a clown. What is your real job?'”
More than likely, college graduates, let alone ones with business degrees, never envision themselves becoming a professional clown. Justin Rumford is no different, but his acts go far beyond balloon animals and juggling balls.
“I grew up in the business,” Rumford said. “Competing, taking care of animals and clowning now, which has been a great transition, is something I really enjoy. I’ve got to see it from all sides, and it’s been quite a ride.”
“I’ve always been the jokester, and even coming behind the chutes I’d always be cracking jokes and acting like Chris Farley,” Rumford explained. “Everyone kept telling me I need to work as a rodeo entertainer and start doing acts.
“I wasn’t planning on doing it full time,” Rumford said. “I figured I had nothing to lose. I thought I’d just go out there and knock their socks off. It worked, and it was like, ‘What in the world? This is really fun.'”