For an event that has continually raised the bar over the past 12 years, it’s saying a lot to think the BlueDEF Velocity Tour event this coming weekend, in Decatur, Texas, is a watershed moment in PBR history.
As in years past, the J.W. Hart PBR Challenge, which was the first non-BFTS event to operate as a nonprofit organization, is setting yet another new trend in event production.
What began as a whimsical idea to have five Ring of Honor members come out of retirement for one out in a $100,000 winner-take-all challenge has grown into eight riders – Justin McBride, Chris Shivers, Mike White, Tater Porter, Ross Coleman, Michael Gaffney, Cody Custer and Hart – and $160,000 along with a Champions Challenge featuring J.B. Mauney, Mike Lee, Renato Nunes, Shane Proctor all competing in addition to the actual PBR event.
And it’s all available on pay-per-view.
“While we knew it was going to be a big deal,” said Andrew Rottner, one of six committee members along with Calvin Jackson, Wendell Berry, Alan Sessions, Hart and the late Roy Young. “I just don’t think we knew it was going to be as big as it turned out to be.”
In fact, in addition to more than $600,000 that has been donated to local charities in Decatur and throughout Wise County, they’ve raised enough funds through the event, annual banquets and the help of Berry’s own foundation – 1,000 Miles Till Home – that they will also be giving away a free home to an area military veteran.
It’s the 13th home they’ve handed out to a Purple Heart recipient in the past three years.
This year’s event takes place Saturday, May 30, at 7:30 p.m. CT.
As in the past, it’ll be held in the Wise County Sheriff’s Posse Arena, which has been more than doubled from its 3,500 original seats to more than 7,500, at the local fairgrounds.
The draw for the annual PBR event will feature Texas natives such as Douglas Duncan and Stormy Wing.
As for the Built Ford Tough Ring of Honor: Unfinished Business, presented by BlueDEF, portion, McBride, a two-time World Champion, who is competing for the second time since retiring at the conclusion of the 2008 season, said he didn’t commit because of the money.
“I’m doing it because J.W. Hart asked me to,” McBride said.
Jackson said, “That’s pretty powerful stuff.”
Ultimately, the increased attendance will result in more money raised for charities.
“This should be our biggest year yet,” Hart said.
Hart said they will approach, if not surpass, $700,000 and when combined with the $260,000 they spent purchasing homes, the actual money Hart’s event has raised is fast approaching the $1 million mark. That money has largely stayed within Wise County – United Way, sheriff’s department, fire department and other charities – other than the Rider Relief Fund and two years ago Hart asked his partners that they make a donation in the wake of a tornado that devastated the city of Moore, Oklahoma.
Not to mention, the commercial value of each home is estimated at $250,000 for a total of $3.25 million.
“I don’t think enough attention gets paid to that,” McBride said.
Coleman said, “To make a million dollars for charity with his name on it – the title of this whole situation – I look up to him so much because that’s what it’s all about—giving back to the community, giving back to the wounded warriors and the soldiers and the people that really deserve that money. And that’s coming out of a little town like Decatur. Everybody gets behind everybody and everyone knows everyone. My hats off them. Man, I can’t tell you how cool this whole deal is. It’s absolutely amazing.”
“It is amazing,” McBride agreed. “I didn’t know those numbers. I knew it was big and it was good, but I didn’t know it was that big. That really is amazing. It’s bigger than us eight old fogies getting on a bull or guys competing for a living and trying to win an event. The event itself is a lot bigger than all that.”
In addition, to hosting the event in Decatur since 2004, Hart’s event was originally held for three years – 2001-03 – in nearby Gainesville.
It wasn’t until coming to Decatur that it began to reach its potential.
And although the amazing charity numbers are now beginning to stack up, Berry was emphatic when said, “We’re just getting started.”
Everyone involved agreed that if anyone were to be credited with its ongoing success, it’s the community of Decatur and Wise County.
“I don’t know if it’s unique,” Berry said, “but they keep giving back. It’s just a generous part of the world. People get behind good causes. We’re just trying to help and they know that and they’re behind.”
“It’s a rural area … and they support the heck out of it,” McBride added.
Decatur is located 40 miles northwest of downtown Fort Worth and just 15 miles south of the Oklahoma state line.
Founded in 1856, Wise County’s population has tripled in the past 40 years from 20,000 residents in 1970 to 60,939 as of 2013. In addition to Decatur, Wise County is home to little burgeoning communities like Bridgeport and Boyd, Alvord and Chico along with Paradise, Newark, Runaway Bay, Aurora and Lake Bridgeport.
Decatur is a 30-minute drive from Fort Worth and depending on traffic throughout the metropolitan area, Dallas is an hour east with the Dallas / Fort Worth International Airport connecting it with a nonstop flight to any major city in the world.
Rottner, who moved to Decatur after graduating from college, noted the casual living and the bond neighbors share with one another as a primary reason people continue to find Wise County, and specifically Decatur, a place to raise their family.
“It’s God’s country,” Rottner said.
There are fundraisers and community activities nearly every weekend.
According to Hart, everyone is supportive either financially or by getting involved firsthand, especially when it comes to raising money for children and soldiers.
“It’s truly amazing to see it when they come together,” said Hart, who witnessed the building of a wooden castle by the Decatur Junior Woman’s Club, at a local playground. “This community is like none other than I’ve seen in the world.
“I wish our whole country could be like Wise County and Decatur, Texas. If we were, we’d sure be a better country.”
One reason Hart feels so at home in Wise County, despite living 60 miles north across the Oklahoma border in Love County, likely comes from his upbringing.
Part of his charitable nature comes from the cowboy code taught by his parents—namely his mother Debbie, who passed away shortly after his son Wacey Dalton was born.
There is no official cowboy code.
However, the late Gene Autry once wrote up characteristics like helping people in distress and being a good worker along with being a patriot.
All of which represents Hart.
Others have said the code has to do with having pride and doing your best along with standing up for what’s right—and that’s precisely what McBride said of his longtime friend and former travel partner.
“He’s the kind of guy that will stand up for people that can’t stand up for themselves,” McBride said. “If you’re a little hot-shit type person then you’re probably not going to get along with him, but if you don’t have two nickels to rub together and you’re trying hard to make it then he’s probably going to be your best buddy.
“He knows what it’s like not have the nicest clothes at school or whatever it might be,” McBride added. “He knows what that feels like and—absolutely—that has everything to do with why he is the guy he is. He’s not the kind of guy who will ever forget it either.”
His family didn’t always have money and once he and his brother Cody started riding for a living, their earnings helped to the pay the bills and put food on the table.
McBride also noted that Hart grew up fast. In fact, he joked that by the time he met Hart, the 23-year-old was like spending time with a 40-year-old.
“Over time a person grows into who they naturally are,” said Hart, when asked if he grew up to be the man his mother raised him to be.
“I think she would be very proud of what he’s done,” Rottner said, “and what he’s helped create with this event and all the benefit it’s provided for so many people.”
Hart added, “I’m not a very Biblical person, like my wife is, but – and I know I’m going to quote it wrong – if you raise your children up in the way of the wise they will never depart. I don’t know how wise my mother raised me to be – laughing – maybe that’s why it took me a little longer to get there.”
“When a guy loses one of his parents he’s halfway to being all alone in the world,” he continued. “He may have a wife or kids or grandparents still, but I’ve always thought of it that way. You always have somebody to put your head on their shoulder as long as your parents are here and when you lose one of them you’re halfway to – basically – being at the top of the heap of your household. You know what I mean? I don’t know how to explain it. You don’t have anybody to lean on like your mom and dad. When they’re gone, you’re the one.”
However, behind every great man is a greater woman and, in this case, that would be his wife LeAnn.
Settling down and getting married was a turning point for both of them.
They got involved with the local church – LeAnn is prominent leader when it comes to the annual angel tree and toy drive, which provides winter clothes for less fortunate children as well as a toy on Christmas morning.
“This is kind of silly,” Berry said, “but I think his greatest accomplishment is that he married his wife. She’s the backbone and she’s the real deal. I think she’s really helped him. I’ve been around him 13 years and I’ve watched him grow from a single guy to a married guy and now with kids he’s a family man. It’s been fun to watch him grow. I think LeAnn was a big part of that.”
“J-Dub and his wife are just nonstop,” Coleman said.
In addition to adopting two children – Wacey and Makayla – they’re also foster parents and have taken in dozens of children for anywhere from one night to a couple of weeks.
According to Rottner, Hart (and his family) continue to impact people and it’s a big reason why his annual bull riding event, in Decatur, has become a difference-maker.
“It’s a great relationship,” Rottner said.
Jackson said, “He’s well-thought of in our community.”
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