By Frank J. Buchman
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 78th annual Flint Hills Rodeo Thursday, Friday and Saturday, June 4-5-6, beginning each evening at 8 o’clock, in the historic rodeo arena at the north edge of Strong City, Kansas, announced Buck Bailey, Chase County rancher and president of the Flint Hills Rodeo Association.
The richest rodeo legacy surrounding the Flint Hills Rodeo was started 78 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. Other family members were talented with horses and cattle too, but somebody had to stay home and look after the ranch, and their siblings did, forgoing rodeo fame.
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,” Bailey 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,” Bailey said.
Twice, Mike Cervi was awarded the PRCA Stock Contractor of the Year award. He is a member of the Pro Rodeo 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,” Bailey 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,” Bailey 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, and the All American Series with yearend awards to top contestants,” Bailey 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, on Thursday, the Miss Rodeo Kansas Little Rascals Rodeo School has been scheduled at 4:30, in the afternoon.
All children 12 and under will be admitted free to Thursday evening’s first performance of the rodeo, and the first 200 youngsters through the gate 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,” Bailey 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.
Clowns are always exciting part of rodeos for kids and all of those young-at-heart, so Flint Hills Rodeo coordinators this year have contracted “one of the best in the business of making everybody smile.”
Funnyman Brian Potter will be coming all of the way from Newville, Alabama, to entertain the crowd, and work in and out of the clown barrel, assisting bullfighters in saving fallen cowboys from injury in the big bad bull riding climax rodeo event each night.
The topnotch bullfighters, most respected by champion bull riders around the world, this year are Daniel Dyson, Dayton, Texas, and Garrett Kissack, Casper, Wyoming.
Rodeo spectators have been encouraged to “get there early” all three evenings, to go through the Western Trade Show, opening at 5:30, with a complete offering of cowboy related apparel, tack, collectibles, and special memorabilia.
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.
Again, Cervi Rodeo Company bucking horses will be driven down the highway from the fairgrounds to the arena, by rodeo committee members and stock contracting personnel, certainly the parade highlight, and quite semblance of the Emmett Roberts family, Roberts Rodeo Company, and Flint Hills Rodeo Association bringing bucking stock off winter pasture to town for the rodeo a half century and more ago.
“Special Western activities are planned at the rodeo grounds immediately following the parade up to time to start of the rodeo,” Bailey 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.
Promising never a dull moment on the rodeo grounds, the “slack,” for additional contestants, will follow Friday’s public performance with spectators welcome to watch before kicking up the heels at the cowboy dance. Bailey noted: “Interestingly, some of the best times of the rodeo are often recorded during the slack.”
Information is available at www.flinthillsrodeo.org.