A person would be hard pressed to find a more patriotic group than the world of ProRodeo.
From fans, contestants and personnel, to sponsors, administration and organizers, patriotism runs strong through the Western world and the professional rodeo industry. Whether it’s an impassioned national anthem, a tribute to the military or a remembrance of those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect our country’s freedoms, ProRodeo does it right when it comes to patriotic displays.
I was thinking about that during the Memorial Day weekend, and I didn’t have to rack my memory hard at all to find several examples of patriotism in ProRodeo. There are poignant examples just from the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo alone.
Each year, Wrangler pays tribute to the U.S. Armed Forces on Wrangler Night by announcing donations to the Wrangler National Patriot Program. This program – which raises money year-round for soldiers and their families – was founded in 2009 and began with a $50,000 donation in the name of the late Jim Shoulders.
More than $750,000 has been donated so far, with portions of proceeds from the sale of Wrangler National Patriot shirts going to the program. Wrangler has encouraged PRCA rodeo committees to reach out to their local service men and women with their own charity initiatives, and dozens of them have stepped up to do so.
“We have a high level of pride and respect for the individuals serving in the U.S. military who show heroism every day in an effort to protect our country. This is our chance to give back to those veterans who have suffered injuries fighting for our country’s safety and freedom, and to their families who have lost a loved one while on duty,” Phil McAdams, president, Wrangler Specialty Apparel, said on the program’s website. “It is a cause we believe will resonate with the Western industry and rodeo community in particular, and one they will get behind with sincerity.”
This December, Wrangler NFR fans can look forward to military tributes on Boyd Gaming Night on Wednesday, Dec. 10, and on Wrangler National Patriot Night on the rodeo’s culminating night on Saturday, Dec. 13.
Three-time and reigning World Champion Bareback Rider Kaycee Feild is the face of the program in ProRodeo, donating his time to the cause while wearing a Wrangler National Patriot patch on his shirt and taking trips to places like Afghanistan to visit U.S. troops. I talked to Feild on Memorial Day while he was waiting to catch a flight in Alaska, where he was halfway through a two-week trek to meet members of the U.S. Coast Guard stationed throughout the massive state.
He was excited to have had the chance to meet troops who are dedicated to protecting the American way of life.
“It’s just so humbling to see what our troops go through,” Feild said. “It’s not easy to be away from home and away from your family, and being a rodeo cowboy and having to be away from your family a lot, we can relate to a fraction of that. It’s really humbling to see how well they handle it, their motivation and how they keep doing their jobs the best they can.”
Feild’s Alaskan tour included stops in Dutch Harbor, Homer, Kodiak, Juneau and Sitka. He was thrilled by the experience.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s so beautiful here. It’s really, really unbelievable.”
Feild said the response from the soldiers has been great through the years.
“Everyone of (the soldiers) I’ve run into has been so appreciative of what the Wrangler National Patriot Program is doing,” Feild said. “They thank me for coming over and saying hi, and they’re thankful for seeing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. It’s pretty inspirational.”
Memorial Day also meant the kickoff of the Old Fort Days Rodeo in Fort Smith, Ark., as it has for the last 81 years. The longstanding PRCA rodeo has a storied history of paying tribute to the country’s military, and beginning on Memorial Day is a sacred thing for the rodeo.
“It’s a big thing for us to honor our military, both those coming and going,” said Rodeo Chairman Ronald Scamardo. “We’re basically a military industrial town, and we’re proud of our history here in Fort Smith.”
The rodeo honored World War II veteran Bennie Rausch on Monday, its Wrangler National Patriot Night, a tribute that those in attendance won’t soon forget. Fort Smith’s history as a military hub also plays a role in the rodeo’s patriotic theme.
“We have a rich history in Fort Smith with Fort Chaffee being a full-time military base and now being a National Guard base,” Scamardo said. “The original fort during the Civil War days was called Fort Smith, so we have a lot of history and a big contingent of soldiers who have come through here from other states.”
Last year, I had the pleasure of writing about the beautiful and talented Jenna Smeenk, who was simultaneously serving in the United States Air Force and in the role of Miss Rodeo Florida. Smeenk is a great example of ProRodeo’s commitment to the U.S. Armed Forces, and I was honored to tell her story.
Those are just a few examples of how red, white and blue runs deeply through the sport, how it is ingrained in the fabric of the Western way of life. When I think of occasions like Memorial Day, where we pay tribute to our fallen heroes, I think about my grandfathers and the multitude of others who have served in the Armed Forces through the years.
Filled with a sense of pride, two words keep coming to mind: “Thank you.”