I got involved with rodeo because I love animals and the Western lifestyle. I’ve stayed involved because of the people.
I constantly see the generosity and compassion of these people and am proud to be part of the rodeo community – and it is a community. I think a lot of that goes back to agriculture heritage and being part of rural communities. I know not everyone in rodeo has that background, but after they are involved, they soon learn that if they are going to thrive, they need to be part of the community.
On May 9th, Wrangler NFR qualifier Sean Mulligan hosted a steer wrestling jackpot in Coleman, Okla., to raise money for a scholarship given in the name of his friend Levi Wisness. Sean had help from Will Cook who provided steers and put up part of the added money. He secured the U Cross Arena and raised more money from sponsors and the Wisness family. When it was time to enter, he had $8,000 in the pot.
Steer wrestlers from around the area came to play. They were drawn into four-man teams for an incentive and to sell in a Calcutta. 1999 world champion steer wrestler Mickey Gee got his auctioneering license in March and volunteered his services.
When it was all said and done, Ram National Circuit Finals Rodeo qualifier Ace Campbell won the jackpot and over $4,000. An additional $4,000 was raised for the scholarship and a silent auction raised $4,400 for rodeo publicist (and my coworker) Julie Mankin who was seriously injured in an auto accident.
Not bad for a one day event put on by cowboys. It reminded me of all of the volunteers on our rodeo committees and how important they are to the communities they serve. All of the big winter rodeos are part of livestock shows encouraging youth in their agriculture pursuits and raising lots of money for scholarships along with giving back to their communities.
Communities that host rodeos are very loyal to support us and we should never take that for granted. I applaud every volunteer on every rodeo committee. They work tirelessly to put on events that largely started to as benefits and ways to give back.
Cowboys and cowgirls are very good at taking care of their own. Case in point, the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund has given over $7 million to 1,100 injured rodeo contestants in the past 25 years. Cindy Schonholtz, president and CEO estimates that 99% of the donations to the fund have come from the rodeo community.
When Sean Mulligan was approached about hosting a steer wrestling jackpot, he saw it as an opportunity to give back and remember a friend and fellow competitor in Levi Wisness. This is the second year the event has benefitted the scholarship.
In 2006, I had the idea to start a scholarship to honor my friend Shane Drury. He was a college champ and NFR qualifier in the bull riding who was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma. Through numerous surgeries, treatments and come backs, Shane kept his fans involved with updates that reminded us to keep smiling and live our lives to the fullest.
Shane was at the College National Finals Rodeo that next June to present the first award. Cancer took him from us the next October. Corey Navarre rode at the PBR World Finals with stickers on his helmet honoring Shane that said “Nothin’ But Try.” The scholarship was renamed.
Today the Nothin’ But Try scholarships honor Shane Drury, Levi Wisness, Betty Gayle Cooper and Lee Akin. They are given to members of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) who have faced adversity but refuse to give up. It is about how these people lived – and in Lee’s case – are living their lives.
Levi Wisness was the NIRA steer wrestling champion in 2003. He graduated from the University of Wyoming and represented the Central Rocky Mountain Region on the board of directors. He was a talented athlete who was on track to qualify for the NFR when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Surgery and treatment were successful and he was deemed cancer free. His unexpected death in 2008 was a shock to all of us.
Levi’s friend and traveling partner Dane Hanna volunteers for the jackpot along with NFR saddle bronc rider Wade Sundell. Last year, the duo roasted a pig and donated it for lunch taking donations for the scholarship. This year, rain kept them from doing that but they were both an active part of the event.
“Levi would have loved this,” Hanna said. “He was the friendliest guy I’ve ever known. When we were traveling it would take us an hour to get out of the gas station. He just loved everybody. Kids, adults, it didn’t matter he took time to visit with them all.”
Cambpell, who graduated from the University of West Alabama in 2012 with a degree in business administration qualified for the CNFR two times. He saw the Nothin’ But Try scholarships presented there and was glad to be part of the jackpot.
“This was a great event,” Campbell said. “The weather probably hurt it this year, but it should just grow. The cool thing about it is Sean does it all to benefit others.”
Mulligan has already started planning for the third annual Nothin’ But Try steer wrestling jackpot. He and his wife Bryel both graduated from the University of Wyoming and love that they can do something to support education while remembering a friend.
“Levi’s family really got behind us and that means a lot and lets me know how much this means to them,” Sean said. “I couldn’t do it without the support of sponsors, friends and Bryel. I just want it to keep growing and raise more money.”
If anyone wants to support the Nothin’ But Try Scholarships or the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, drop me a note firstname.lastname@example.org. I’ll be more than happy to let you know how to support these worthy causes.