by Frank J. Buchman
The Free Press
The Flint Hills are cattle country. Where there are cattle, there are cowboys on horseback to take care of them.
And they’re a competitive bunch.
Who can ride the roughest bucking horse, rope and tie the orneriest critter the fastest? Premise of the sport of rodeo, so what more appropriate locale for a rodeo than the Flint Hills.
E.C. Emmett Roberts was a cowboy, arguably “the best in the Flint Hills,” eight decades ago.
Never shy in climbing aboard the rankest horse in the pen, or challenging another to cowboy abilities.
Roberts’ rodeo adrenalin carried intensely to his children. The family started a rodeo at their Strong City ranch.
Cowboys local and from miles around came to beat the Roberts bunch. That didn’t happen, and soon the Roberts family went on to become world-renowned rodeo champions.
But, the Sunday afternoon Roberts Ranch competitive gathering became an annual attraction, the Flint Hills Rodeo.
“Emmett Roberts and his family are an inspirational story of rodeo success,” said Buck Bailey, president of the Flint Hills Rodeo Association.
It’s a tradition that’s been carried on with the 80th annual Flint Hills Rodeo, set for June 1-3, at the arena in Strong City.
“Traditionally the first weekend in June, the Flint Hills Rodeo is the oldest consecutive rodeo in the state of Kansas,”Bailey said.
Billed as “Rodeo at its Best,” the Flint Hills Rodeo is now sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
“We’ll have the best cowboys and cowgirls here, including several present and former world champions,” Bailey said.
First and foremost is the competition featuring bareback and saddle-bronc riding competitions, tie-down roping, steer wrestling, team roping, bull riding and barrel racing for the cowgirls.
Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances begin at 8 p.m., with a full slate of attractions.
The future of rodeo is children.
“Kids 12 and under will get into Thursday’s performance free,” Bailey said. “The first 200 children in the gates Thursday evening will also get a ticket for a free hotdog.”
Also planned is a kids’ stick-horse race at 6 p.m. every evening, with a kid’s calf scramble highlighting each performance.
Especially for the working cowboys in the Flint Hills, each performance will feature a two-cowboy team wild steer mugging competition.
“This really gets the crowd on the edge of the bleachers,” Bailey said.
Opening at 5:30 p.m., a western trade show features a wide array of unique ranch-life specialties.
Friday’s performance has been designated Military Appreciation Night, giving free admission for active and retired military persons with identification.
Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night will be Saturday with special acknowledgement of cancer victims and survivors as well as efforts for cancer research.
“Many of the contestants and spectators will be wearing pink to show their support,” Bailey said.
Anticipated annual rodeo attraction is the Saturday afternoon parade, beginning 2 p.m. at Swope Park in Cottonwood Falls, and concluding at the rodeo grounds in Strong City.
“Everybody’s welcome to come be in the parade, or bring your chair and watch along the route,” Bailey said.
A cowboy-cowgirl dance right at the rodeo grounds will follow the Friday and Saturday evening performances.
Nightly drawings include Thursday, a framed rodeo photo; Friday, a guitar signed by Charlie Daniels; and Saturday, a rodeo memorial knife handmade by Clay Cooper.
Livestock is key to rodeo, and Cervi Championship Rodeo offers the best, according to Bailey.
Roger Mooney, one of the top professional rodeo announcers in the world, will return to call the Flint Hills action from the back of his black and white Paint Horse called Flash.
Providing smiles and quirks throughout each performance will be John Harrison, the rodeo clown and barrel man.
Additional information is available at flinthillsrodeo.org.