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ProRodeo Hall of Fame announces 2020 inductees

Posted at 7:48 AM, Apr 21, 2020

(Editor's note: PRCA release)

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. – Renowned bareback horse Grated Coconut of Calgary Stampede headlines an award-winning, eight-member class of inductees that will be enshrined in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Aug. 1.

Grated Coconut, who won a PRCA-record six Bareback Horse of the Year awards, is joined by six-time world champion Cody Ohl (tie-down roping, 1997-98, 2001, 2003, 2006 and all-around, 2001); world champion bull rider Butch Kirby (1978); stock contractor Jim Sutton Jr.; contract personnel Suni Deb Backstrom; notable Randy Witte; rodeo Ellensburg Rodeo and world champion barrel racer Martha Josey (1980). Grated Coconut – Bareback Horse Grated Coconut has no equal as a PRCA bareback horse. He was named Bareback Horse of the Year in 2003-04 and 2006-09 and was the top horse of the National Finals Rodeo in 2008.

“We’re excited to say the least,” Calgary Stampede’s Keith Marrington said. “For the Calgary Stampede, this is a great honor to have one of their animals recognized on the world stage. We retired him in 2010 because we needed to use his services to keep our program alive and (for) more years to come. He’s a very unique horse and the face of the Calgary Stampede breeding program. We’re just delighted to have him recognized by such a great organization as the PRCA. That’s the ultimate recognition when you retire, and you go into the Hall of Fame and you are recognized by your peers is pretty special.”

Grated Coconut, 23, lives on the Calgary Stampede ranch in Hanna, Alberta.

“He was special in and out of the arena,” Marrington said. “When he was in the arena, the guys knew anytime they drew Grated Coconut they had the opportunity to make money. He was that special horse. He was very consistent. He was athletic and honest. He would give the guys an opportunity to get out on him in a respectful style. He did his job and if guys did their job, they certainly had the opportunity to make money. Outside the arena, he was just a different horse, he was very gentle. The horse was halter broke. He has a great demeanor and has passed those genetics on to his offspring.”

Grated Coconut was inducted into the Canadian Professional Rodeo Association Hall of Fame (2012) and the Ellensburg (Wash) Rodeo Hall of Fame (2013).

Cody Ohl – Tie-down roper, all-around

At 46 years old, six-time world champion Ohl will add the title of ProRodeo Hall of Famer to his long list of accomplishments.

“It’s the greatest feeling in the world,” Ohl said. “You dream of being a world champion your whole life, and it only gets to be real for so many. To be inducted into the Hall of Fame for a great career is pretty amazing.”

After winning the 1994 PRCA Overall Rookie of the Year, the Texas cowboy collected six world champion buckles. He also qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo 20 times (1994-2001 and 2003-14) and the Clem McSpadden National Finals Steer Roping three times (1999-2001). With $3.5 million in career earnings, Ohl is second only to Trevor Brazile in total money won in ProRodeo competition. Ohl’s 20 NFR qualifications ties him for second-most in tie-down roping with Fred Whitfield. Only Mike Johnson has more with 23. Perhaps Ohl’s most memorable run came in a round at the 2003 Wrangler NFR when he clocked a time of 6.5 seconds, tying for the third-fastest time ever witnessed in ProRodeo.

During his final trip to the Wrangler NFR, he won at least a share of first place in three rounds to extend his tie-down roping event record total to 52 round wins. Ohl also shares the record for most round wins in a single year, and he did it on two occasions. Ohl won five rounds in 2001 and 2013. The only other tie-down roper to win five rounds was Dave Brock in 1978.

“Just to be surrounded by the ones in this class (of inductees) and the ones continuing to go in means the world,” Ohl said. “The money and prizes were great, but without all the awesome fans, none of it would be possible. Not only is it a great deal to be inducted, it’s awesome to have such a following.”

Butch Kirby – Bull rider

Gary William “Butch” Kirby started trick riding at 4 years old. He never really stopped, though his trick turned into staying on bulls for eight seconds at a time. Kirby won the 1978 PRCA world title in bull riding, earning $15,000 at the National Finals Rodeo that year, when roughstock world champions were decided by money won at the NFR.

“I was a little bit surprised,” said Kirby, who will be 65 on April 24. “It’s an honor to be in this hall, especially because my heroes are in there.”

Kirby qualified for the NFR eight times (1973-75, 1977-78, 1980-82). In addition to his world title, he also finished third twice and fifth once. When his bull riding career ended, Kirby never left rodeo. Instead, he became a pro official for 25 years for the PRCA. When the Wrangler NFR comes around in December, it will mark Kirby’s 30th NFR as a judge. Originally born in Salem, N.J., Kirby made Stephenville, Texas, his hometown. In 1975, he and his brothers Sandy and Kaye were the first trio of brothers to qualify for the Finals in the same year, with Butch qualifying in bull riding, Kaye in bareback riding and Sandy in both of those events. All three were trick riders before going on to careers in ProRodeo.

Jim Sutton Jr. – Stock contractor

Sutton is the patriarch of Sutton Rodeo, and he and his wife, Julie, have a six-generation family operation still running strong. Sutton Rodeo is based in Onida, S.D.

Jim and Julie were the recipients of the 2017 PRCA Donita Barnes Contract Personnel Lifetime Achievement Award. Sutton Rodeo has had three PRCA Horse of the Year awards: saddle bronc horse Deep Water in 1979, bareback horse Big Bud in 1985 and saddle bronc horse Chuckulator in 2012. Chuckulator also was the top saddle bronc horse of the 2012 NFR. Sutton Rodeo stock has been selected to perform at every NFR since its inception in 1959 but one.

“It’s my birthday (today, April 20), so this was quite the gift,” said Sutton, 85. “This is something I really appreciate. I have been inducted into a half dozen halls of fame, and if there’s one I wanted to be in this would be it. This is the best award I have ever received.”

Jim and Julie took the company to the next level with a focus on production and innovation. Jim began the Black Hills Stock Show Rodeo in 1978, a rodeo nominated 15 times for PRCA Indoor Rodeo of the Year, winning the award in 2002-03. Jim originated the Wrangler Bullfights and the Bailey Bail-Off. He is famous for his pageantry and colorful rodeo openings, including the openings at the NFR in 1995-96. Jim has been nominated four times as Stock Contractor of the Year.

“I put up with 20 of the best bullfighters in the world for 20 years, I thought that was a pretty good feat,” Jim said.

The roots of the Suttons being involved in the rodeo business can be traced to 1926 when the Edwin Sutton family – Edwin was Jim’s grandfather – began producing rodeos on the home ranch in Sully County, S.D. James H. Sutton Sr. took Sutton Rodeo to the next stage in the 1950s when he entered a partnership with Erv Korkow. As one of the first members of the Rodeo Cowboys Association, Sutton/Korkow stock performed at the first National Finals Rodeo in Dallas in 1959. James was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1982.

“I don’t know anybody else I would rather follow,” Jim said. In 1968, James (Jim) Sutton Jr. became a partner with his dad, forming Sutton Rodeo Company.

Sunni Deb Backstrom – Contract Personnel

Backstrom, of Congress, Ariz., is a 17-time NFR Secretary (1991, 2000, 2003, 2006-19) who has earned PRCA Secretary of the Year 10 times, more than any other recipient, for her outstanding work as a rodeo secretary.

She served as the contestant office manager at the 2005 Finals and three times as an NFR timer (1975, 1980, 1984).

Backstrom was at a loss for words when she was notified that she was going into the Hall of Fame as contract personnel. Her mother, Ellen, was inducted under the same category in 1995, making them the first mother and daughter to be inducted into the Hall.

“My mom was the first woman inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame,” said Sunni Deb Backstrom, 61. “It was one of my proudest days. My entire life is the rodeo industry and always has been. It was my family’s life. It’s very overwhelming, I can’t tell you how much this means to me.”

Ellen Backstrom was a four-time NFR secretary and was elected in the late ’70s to serve on the PRCA Board of Directors as contract personnel director, making her the only female to ever serve on the Board. She passed away March 22, 1988.

“I can only aspire to be half as good as she was,” Sunni Deb Backstrom said. “She’s the epitome of a great rodeo secretary and loved the industry as much as I do. What I admired most about her was that she was so honest. She was really dedicated, smart and a forward-thinker.”

Sunni Deb Backstrom received her first Rodeo Cowboys Association card in 1968 and her PRCA card in 1976. She works about 120 performances a year for prestigious rodeos such as Denver, San Antonio, Houston, Nampa, Idaho, and Waco, Texas. She has worked for Cervi Championship Rodeo since 1980.

Randy Witte – Notable

Witte hasn’t been one to be at a loss for words. He spent a career putting them down on paper. But when he was notified he was going into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2020 as a notable, he wasn’t sure what to say.

“That was the farthest thing on my mind,” Witte said. “I’m pretty much speechless. … It’s hard to sink in. I just told the rest of my immediate family. What a tremendous honor. It brings back a flood of memories.”

Witte worked on the RCA news bureau and wrote for ProRodeo Sports News for seven years before transitioning to Western Horseman, where he worked for 29 years – the last 17 as the publisher. His career revolved around rodeo, even if he didn’t make it as a bull rider.

“When I started out, I was going to be a bull rider,” Witte said. “I made some rides I was proud of. I had help from (Hall of Famer) Jerome Robinson. He taught me and other guys. But he was a lot more dedicated. In my case, it didn’t take me long to find my real course of life was rodeo writing not rodeo riding.”

Witte, who lives in Peyton, Colo., worked in the RCA office in Denver leading the RCA news bureau. His job was to produce the weekly news release. He would also contribute to PSN, taking over as editor from 1976-77. Working at Western Horseman added to a career he thoroughly enjoyed.

“I thought I had to go to where I could to tell the rodeo story,” he said. “It felt like I was doing good publicizing it the way I could. I got to meet past and present cowboys who were so interesting to talk to.”

Ellensburg Rodeo – Committee

With its centennial year on the horizon, the Ellensburg (Wash.) Rodeo has another cause for celebration as a 2020 ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductee. “

This is great news, we feel very honored,” said Dan Morgan, Director for the Ellensburg Rodeo. “With everything going on lately, you know there’s been a lot of not-so-happy news out there right now, and it felt really good to get a call like this and brighten the day.”

Since 1923 the Ellensburg Rodeo has grown into one of the largest ProRodeo competitions of the regular season.

“The fact we have been around for almost 100 years is special, and we’re trying to continue on the sport of rodeo for the contestants, the fans and for the stock, and to support the Western heritage of our county, our state and our country,” Morgan said.

While the Ellensburg Rodeo boasted a $368,274 payout in 2019, it’s also home to the Xtreme Bulls Tour Finale, which presented an additional $101,520 in prize money for an overall total of $469,974 – a staggering amount considering the population of Ellensburg is about 21,000.

“Ellensburg is a small town, relatively speaking,” Morgan said. “The Ellensburg Rodeo is the biggest event in our town. It brings in a lot of revenue, and for a lot of businesses, that’s their big boom, Labor Day weekend.”

Since 1998, three Ellensburg Rodeo directors have been awarded the prestigious John Justin Committeeman of the Year Award – Ken MacRae (1998), Joel Smith (2007) and Steve Adler (2013).

“Our rodeo is 100% put on by volunteers, and our volunteers are more important than anything to us,” Morgan said. “We have our board of directors, our top hands and then there’s hundreds of volunteers. You don’t really think about just how many people it takes until you go to the rodeo and see the same people year after year. I’ve seen the same people volunteer for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been here my whole life.”

Martha Josey – Barrel Racer

Josey not only became a world champion barrel racer but got the opportunity to compete in rodeo during the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta, that pitted the United States vs. Canada. Josey won an individual bronze medal and helped Team USA capture the team title.

Josey, who resides in Karnack, Texas, qualified for the National Finals Rodeo 11 times on four different horses across a span of four decades. She won her world title in 1980 on Sonny Bit O’ Both, the same year the duo also won the AQHA World Championship, a feat that hasn’t been matched.

“I am so excited and just don’t know what to say, I am in shock,” the 82-year-old said upon learning of her induction. “I have received some great honors in the past, but this is among the very highest. It is a true honor to be included in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in the WPRA category alongside so many great athletes and personnel.

“I thought four years ago when the WPRA inducted their first class it was just magnificent, and to get the call today is just wonderful. I am so honored.”

Not only did she make a name for herself in the arena but also has given back to the sport through her clinics. She and husband, R.E., started conducting barrel racing clinics in 1967 at their ranch in Texas. Many of today’s world champions credit Martha Josey with helping them achieve their goals. Her clinics have grown to average more than 1,500 students annually.

In addition, the Joseys have been involved in creating new and innovative barrel racing saddles, pads, protective boots, knot reins, and combination bits. The result has been increased safety and increased barrel racing skills.

She can add ProRodeo Hall of Fame to the list of halls she has been induction to, including the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame, the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, the Texas Cowboy Hall of Fame, the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame, and the Ark-La-Tex Hall of Fame.

The WPRA contributed to this report.