Carroll County roping team brings home national championship
GREEN FOREST -- Mark Gordon, of Oak Grove, and Neil Rudd, of Green Forest, took their team roping abilities to the United States Team Roping Championships (USTRC) in Oklahoma City last week, and came back national champions.
"We both thought we could place," said Gordon, "but we never thought that we would win it."
The two Carroll Countians brought back $104,000 in cash and more than $6,000 worth of prizes including Martin Championship Trophy saddles, Trophy Gist buckles, Tony Lama ostrich boots, and Western Horseman collector's prints.
They began practicing together in Farewell six or seven years ago.
"I started roping in 1998 because I was dating my wife at the time and her dad got me started," said Gordon, a farm manager at Dogwood Canyon.
However, Rudd, a farm owner, said he had roped for nearly 34 years, only taking off seven to concentrate on his family. "My wife, Sarah, talked me into starting up again in 1996," said Rudd, "and I'm glad she did."
The two ropers qualified for the championship round in Tunica, Miss. when they made the top 10 in regionals, placing fourth and ninth.
"It's just a hobby for us," explained Gordon. "We try to practice once a week at Larry Meek's on Douglas Road, but it slows down a lot in the winter time because of the weather."
In fact, Gordon said the team had not practiced in three weeks before the finals.
"We just went in the hopes of roping good and winning some money," said Gordon.
Mark and his wife, Dustina, along with Rudd and his wife, Sarah, and two daughters, Kendra and Katie loaded up and made the trip together.
The competition was based on four-steer averages, which means that the winning team not only had to catch four steers consecutively, but also had to have the fastest time doing it. "If we would've missed one steer, we were out," explained Gordon. "It was cut throat. You make a mistake and you're out."
With approximately 350 teams vying for the prize money, Gordon and Rudd were selected to move on to the final round with the 30 fastest teams.
"Once we got our first steer down," said Gordon, "I was relaxed, and Neil didn't miss a steer all weekend. I was more nervous after we won about how we were going to get all our stuff home."
Rudd said the crowd in the arena fueled his excitement. "The stadium pumped loud rock music and when we would hook the steer everybody would go wild." he said.
Gordon also fed of the crowd's energy while waiting for his turn to rope. "We were sitting in the alley and we could watch the whole arena and see what everybody before us had done."
The team roped their last steer in 8.75, moving them into the lead with a time of 37.37 for all four steers but at that point, they still had five teams to go before a clear winner would be announced.
Gordon and Rudd watched the remaining teams from the sidelines with bated breath until they were finally asked to take their victory lap around the coliseum.
"The first thing I did was shake Neil's hand, and I was about to give him a hug, but we were on our horses," said Gordon, " and of course, after our victory lap, we had to go take a look at our saddles."
Meanwhile in the stands, friends and family were thrilled. "I had to get someone to call Mark's parents because I couldn't dial the number I was shaking so bad," said Dustina.
Gordon's parents, Richard and Lesa Gordon of Alpena, did not go to the competition for a reason. "My dad says he won't go because I miss everything when he watches."
Rudd said when his parents, Bob and Joyce Rudd of Alpena, got their phone call they were overcome with emotion. "It was probably the second time in my life that I've heard my dad cry.
"It was a very emotional time for everybody involved."
The two boys will be interviewed on the Roping Show sometime in the spring of 2007.
"We really appreciate all the phone calls and nice words from everybody here," said Gordon, who picked up his caller ID to show that he had 31 phone calls just within the past two days.
Next year, the two boys will start all over "at the bottom, competing just like everybody else," said Gordon.
When asked if they plan to win again next year, Neil said the chance of that happening was slim to none. "It's even hard to earn to ride and rope in the nationals. Our first goal is just to get back there -- I'm scared."