When I got the call from Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Commissioner Troy Ellerman earlier this year asking me to sit on the ProRodeo Hall of Fame Selection Committee, I was deeply humbled. It was not the kind of call where you hang up the phone and go straight to jumping up and down and screaming. At that conversation's end, I just sat down and smiled. Wow. What an honor.
Then I got a knot in my stomach. Big honor, but even bigger responsibility. Within a few days, a huge, fat notebook of Hall of Fame nominees arrived at my door. There were pages upon pages of contestants, stock contractors, contract personnel, rodeo notables and livestock who'd been brought to the committee's attention by way of the written nomination process. They were followed by another fat section of contestants who are automatically eligible for consideration because they've won at least one world title.
Determined to pull my weight and go into the selection pow wow prepared, I started in on my homework immediately. The first thing I did was enlist my dad, a PRCA gold card cowboy who was around long before me and has a fair and honest eye for evaluating talent and character. We sat at my kitchen counter, went down all the lists name by name, and he told me which of those people made a mark on the sport big enough to grab his attention in his 67-year tenure on this earth.
Then I picked up the phone, and talked to others in my trusted inner circle whose opinions I respect. I spoke to several high-profile, gold-buckle types and a few more obscure but no less worthy in an effort to narrow the field down to the real-deal dominators. I also dug through rodeo's history books, and thought hard about the best ways to select only those who are genuinely legit.
The rigorous research made a few things clear to me. I do not believe we should induct current contestants. Yes, it might draw a bigger crowd to the induction ceremony. But with Troy trying to run a tighter financial PRCA ship, he doesn't need to drop tens of thousands of dollars on a one-day photo opp and 500 pounds of barbecued beef when those same dollars could be better eartagged for the cowboys' pockets and taking the sport to the next level.
There's no doubt Jake Barnes and Clay O'Brien Cooper (Class of 1997) belong in the Hall, but (A) They'd have appreciated the honor a whole lot more if their rodeo days were behind them, and (B) 100 years from now, when some wide-eyed kid tours the halls of the Hall, he's going to assume their careers ended in 1997, because that's when their plaques were set in stone. The rest of their careers may never be told in the context of the Hall, which is the very place that's supposed to link the past to the present.