By: Kendra Santos
Rodeo is famous for family tradition. Each generation picks up the torch from the last, and carries it proudly as our cowboy sport continues to evolve. If you take one step behind the curtain here at the World Champions Rodeo Alliance’s $553,000 Rodeo Corpus Christi, your heart will be brimming with multi-generational friendships that the fans in the stands might never notice. But threads the likes of Donnie Gay cheering for Sage Kimzey, who’s right now busy trying to break his record for gold bull riding buckles, and Donnie’s sweet pre-perf reunion with his friend and rival Denny Flynn’s daughter, Ari-Anna, are the very fabric that sets the cowboy sport apart from all others.
Oklahoma native Sage—who now lives in Salado, Texas, and already owns seven gold bull riding buckles—will ride again in tonight’s Showdown Round at American Bank Center, where the champs will cash $15,000 checks.
It might surprise some that Donnie sincerely supports Sage’s vision quest to upstage the dominance that earned him eight world bull riding crowns.
“I’ve been a Sage Kimzey fan for a long time,” said Gay, who’s on the microphone as a color commentator here at Rodeo Corpus Christi. “When I heard him say he was going to be a 10-time world champion, I knew he was committed, because he knows that I actually won nine.”
There were three years in the 1970s—1976, ’77 and ’78—when the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association did a little experimenting, and awarded PRCA championships for money won during the regular season while doling out the world championships based sudden-death style solely on National Finals Rodeo earnings.
The experiment failed, and the power-that-be returned to their senses in 1979. But not before robbing the likes of Donnie Gay, who won the PRCA title all three of those years and the gold buckles in two of the three. Had the time-tested standard of awarding the world championship based on money won start to finish each season gone uninterrupted, Gay would have nine gold buckles. He’s impressed that young Sage knew and respected that fact.
“A long line of guys want to win the world,” Gay continued. “Hell, everyone wants a gold buckle. But when you put it out there publicly, you have to back it up. And Sage had only won the world twice when he said that.
“I became Sage’s biggest supporter, because I respected him stepping out on a limb like he did. I broke Jim Shoulders’ record of seven world bull riding titles. Now Sage is after my record. He’s better than everybody else by quite a margin, in my opinion, and he has a goal of shattering my record, with a plan to back it up. He’s on it, and records are made to be broken, so I say, ‘Good for him.’”
Arkansas cowgirl Ari-Anna competed in both the breakaway roping and barrel racing in Thursday night’s Progressive Round here at Rodeo Corpus Christi, after getting a pre-perf, uncle-like hug from Donnie. Ari-Anna and her gray horse Simon smoked off a run that earned them a return trip to American Bank Center for tonight’s Showdown Round.
“This girl’s daddy, Denny Flynn, was the Mr. Cool of all the bull riders,” Gay grinned. “He could walk in anywhere, and every woman in the room would be looking at him and maybe even drooling a little, because he was so handsome. Denny was a fierce competitor, and we were always very friendly rivals.”
Both bull riders have been enshrined and will forever be immortalized in rodeo history after their inductions into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.
“Denny Flynn was always known for his style—from his good looks to how he rode bulls,” Donnie continued. “He was hard to beat, whether it was judges liking his riding style or girls liking his hairdo. I knew (Ari-Anna’s mom) Lynn (Manning Flynn) when she was an NFR barrel racer. It’s so cool to see the very handy daughter of two old rodeo friends here representing. Rodeo has always been and always will be a family affair.”
Rodeo’s Circle of Life has been in the air all week here at Rodeo Corpus Christi. In any given performance, you might see eight-time World Champion Team Roper Rich Skelton competing alongside 15-year-old Texas team roping young gun Blaine Burleson, or 20-time World Champion Cowgirl Jackie Crawford roping against 20-year-old breakaway roping rising star Bradi Good.
It’s just so cool to see multi-generational rodeo respect.
“I’ve always said my rodeo goal is to try to outdo my dad,” Ari-Anna smiled sweetly. “He made the NFR 10 times, and my mom made it three or four times. It’s always been a joke around the house that if I could make it in the middle of my two parents somewhere, that’d be awesome.
“There was a time when I was probably better known as a breakaway roper than a barrel racer. After college (at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, where she earned a business degree), I sold my breakaway horses. I haven’t gotten to rodeo as much the last few years, because I’ve been so busy training young barrel horses and riding outside horses. The WCRA suits me so well, because I can nominate jackpots and still get to come compete at big rodeos for this amount of money. And being able to compete in both events again is twice as nice.”