Titlists Cherish Roundup Buckles

Jake Long, left, and Clay Smith roped the Dodge City Roundup Rodeo team roping title last year. It was a big deal to Long, a Kansas cowboy with 12 qualifications to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. (PHOTO BY DAVID SEYMORE)

DODGE CITY, Kan. – When the Kansas City Chiefs hoisted the Lombardi Trophy as the Super Bowl champions in February, it was the culmination of a season of excellence.

It was the prize the players were craving, their goal through the rigors of the campaign. In Dodge City, cowboys and cowgirls battle for a week with hopes of collecting one of the most prized trophies in ProRodeo, the Dodge City Roundup Rodeo championship buckle.

Ten contestants earned them last year, and they all hope to obtain another one during this year’s rodeo, set for 7:45 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 2-Sunday, Aug. 6, at Roundup Arena; Dodge City Xtreme Bulls is set for 7:45 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 1.

“I love those buckles,” said Michelle Darling, the reigning barrel racing champion from Medford, Oklahoma. “The buckles are so cool. I have two of them now, and I think they’re really cool.”

Darling earned her first Roundup title in 2019, then she and her prized mount, Martini, beat a field of top cowgirls and elite horses to win it for the second time in 2022.

“When I won it the first time, it was two rounds, and the top ones in the average came back to the short-go,” she said of Sunday’s championship night. “Last year it went back to one and a short-go. I liked that better. I ran (one) morning, then went to my other Kansas rodeos and came back for the short round.”

In all, she pocketed more than $8,000, which propelled her toward the top of the world standings and to the No. 3 position in the Prairie Circuit, which is made up of contestants and rodeos primarily in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. Darling finished 18th on the WPRA’s money list, just three spots away from qualifying for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.

“Dodge City is just a historical, landmark rodeo,” she said. “I’ve won it two times, and I’ll come back this year and try to do it a third time.”

She was joined in the winner’s circle by bareback rider Garrett Shadbolt, steer wrestler Stetson Jorgensen, saddle bronc rider Colt Gordon, breakaway roper Taylor Hanchey, tie-down roper Cory Solomon, steer roper Cole Patterson, bull rider Creek Young and team ropers Clay Smith and Jake Long.

“It took me a long time to get this one,” said Long, 39, of Coffeyville, Kansas. “I think I’ve probably put more pressure on it. Growing up, this is the one you want to win, especially if you’re from here. I’m pretty pumped up to get it done.”

Roundup is always among the top 25 rodeos in the country based on total payout. That’s important to the contestants. In rodeo, dollars equal points; the contestants in each event that have earned the most money at season’s end will be crowned world champions.

Still, the buckle is something the contestants will always remember.

“I gave the buckle I won last year to my dad, and he’s been wearing it,” Darling said. “That buckle is always a conversation-starter.”

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