Practice made Legendary World Champion Steer Roper best in his trade

“Rodeo is like any other sport. When you’re young, you need a lot of practice.”

Sonny Worrell practiced as a youngster, collecting titles against cowboys multiples his age.

However, practice didn’t stop there. Worrell continued practicing to become one of the most successful all-around timed-event cowboys in the country.

Sonny Worrell
Sonny Worrell

The 1977 world champion steer roper, Carl “Sonny” Worrell 76, passed away Monday, Jan. 28, 2013, at his Stonewell, Oklahoma, home.

Services were January 31, at Stonewall First Baptist Church, with the Reverends Justin McKee (professional rodeo announcer and steer roper) and Richard Dickerson officiating.

Born at Neodesha, Kansas, to Carl and Helen Worrell on August 24, 1936, Worrell lived with his family on the Pratt Ranch, southwest of New Albany, Kansas.

Always a cowboy at heart, exact time of Worrell’s first arena success is uncertain, but sources indicate at 11, he collected a third place check in calf roping at the rodeo in Erie, Kansas, riding a horse he raised and trained. He also won the Mound City Rodeo as a young teenager.

Cowboy historian Dr. Jim Hoy, Emporia, reflected, “I remember seeing Sonny at the El Dorado Rodeo, where he won both the junior calf roping (16 and under), and the regular calf roping.

“He used to come to Countryman’s 4th of July Rodeo at Cassoday, before he joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, and he usually left with money, both from the junior and senior ropings,” Hoy said.

Assisting in operations of the family’s sale barn at Fredonia, Kansas, Worrell graduated from Fredonia High School and enrolled in animal science at Oklahoma State University.

There, Worrell met the daughter of legendary steer roper Everett Shaw, Mary Sue Shaw of Stonewall, and in 1957, the couple was married at Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Worrell competed in calf roping and bulldogging, and later in steer roping, and was on his National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association card until he got his professional card in 1960, when he was runner-up for Rookie of the Year.

Hoy continued, “I got better acquainted with Sonny one summer when I worked a few weeks for the Flying A Rodeo Company (owned in part by Gene Autry at one time), which was putting on rodeos in Nebraska, Iowa, and Topeka and Abilene, Kansas. Sonny and Harley Gilbert were the pickup men for these rodeos, and both also entered calf roping and bulldogging.

“That was in 1961, just a couple of weeks after Sonny won the calf roping, and some of the steer roping at Cheyenne, which gave him the All-Around title at the “Daddy of ‘em All,” Hoy emphasized.

It is said Worrell won money 23 times out of the 28 times he entered the Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo, where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2006.

Worrell qualified for 14 National Finals Rodeo during his career, according to a PRCA news release.  That included five times to the National Finals Rodeo as a tie-down roper, and nine times to the National Finals Steer Roping. He made it to both Finals in the same year in 1960, 1961 and 1963.

In 1970, a leg injury at the Houston Astrodome ended Worrell’s calf roping and bulldogging, but he continued winning in steer roping.

Money was collected at many rodeos through the country, with wins in Kansas at Coffeyville, Dodge City, Hays, Phillipsburg and Strong City.

“Sonny was a hell of a calf roper, but even better steer roper. He wasn’t that big of a guy, but he could bulldog and rope steers with the best of the bigger hands,” Hoy commented.

“I remember that, unlike many rodeo cowboys (who can tend to a bit of showing off), Sonny wasn’t much of a hat wearer. He wore a short brimmed black hat with a curled brim tilted sharply off to the right, and he would set it far back on his head when he rode into the roping box. When Sonny nodded for his calf, the hat would come off, and Sonny was unencumbered for the main chore at hand. He wore it at all, I think, because rodeo rules required it,” Hoy recalled

“I never traveled with Sonny, but I did hear a story from someone who did. Sonny was serious about rodeo, in an age when a lot of rodeo cowboys trained by getting drunk and raising hell.

“Sonny and one or two others were on the road, driving all night to get to the next rodeo with Sonny behind the wheel at about 2 o’clock, when one of the passengers kept trying to carry on a conversation. Sonny stopped the car, and told him ‘If you’re not going to sleep, you drive so I can.’” Hoy said.

Obvious to Worrell’s pleasure, his son Neil Worrell of Fredonia qualified for the National Finals Steer Roping at least five times, being the Finals average winner in 1991.

Likewise, both Sonny and Neil Worrell were numerous times qualifiers for the Prairie Circuit Steer Roping Finals. Sonny reigned as champion in 1977, with Neil following his dad’s boot steps to the title in 1995.

Based out of Altoona, Kansas, in recent years, Worrell, a successful rancher, had also followed in his dad’s profession as a cattle buyer. He had just moved to his wife’s native Stonewall, in July 2011.

Worrell is also an inductee into the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City and the Ak-Sar-Ben Hall of Fame in Omaha. Hoy is a director and inductee to the Kansas Cowboy Hall of Fame, Dodge City, of which Worrell is likewise an inductee.

Among survivors are Worrell’s wife, Mary; their three children, Neil, Beverly and Kelly; and two grandchildren who are rodeo contestants, Cacee Taulman and Colby Worrell.

Memorials in the memory of Carl “Sonny” Worrell can be made to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, Rodeo Historical Society, 1700 NE 63rd, Oklahoma City, Okla., 73111.