Ote Berry had many accomplishments in the rodeo arena. He won four steer wrestling world championships (1985, 1990-91, 1995) and was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1998.
This summer, he was in Casper, Wyoming, to watch his son Denver win the bulldogging title at the College National Finals Rodeo.
But Berry has an added interest in the sport these days. The Oklahoma native is serving as the program coordinator for the Junior Steer Wrestling at the Junior National Finals Rodeo presented by YETI this December in Las Vegas.
“I’ve always liked helping kids,” Berry said, “so that’s the best part of it. To see the kids and the talent they have in working at these events is impressive.”
With this being the first year steer wrestling will be a part of the Junior NFR, Berry wasn’t quite sure what to expect. As the event programmer he was responsible for holding qualifiers to determine what kids would qualify for the Junior NFR.
According to Bo Gardner, Vice President – Corporate Sponsorship at Las Vegas Events, each programmer for the eight events – Junior Steer Wrestling, Junior Team Roping, Junior Barrel Racing, Tie-Down Roping, Breakaway Roping, Mini Bareback Riding, Mini Saddle Bronc Riding and Junior Bull Riding – was responsible for holding at least three qualifiers.
That proved to be no problem for Berry, who held the last of his 12 qualifiers this past weekend in Stigler, Oklahoma.
“I had been out (in Las Vegas) the last couple years,” Berry said. “And I had watched Roy Cooper’s junior calf roping. Then they went to adding events and I talked to Roy about it. And then I talked to the people in Vegas about doing steer wrestling, and it took a little while but it finally came together.
“It’s been kind of challenging to get sponsors and to make it a competitive event, but we pulled it off. There’s a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of work to it.”
The 12 junior steer wrestling qualifiers were held in nine states, ranging from Mississippi to Idaho. In the end, 52 bulldoggers – the top 50 placers as well as two exemptions from the International Finals Youth Rodeo – qualified for the Junior NFR. The 52 contestants are from 18 states.
“That’s what I wanted,” Berry said. “I didn’t want it to just be Oklahoma and Texas; I wanted to branch out and get as many kids as possible from all over.”
Gavin Soileau of Bunkie, Louisiana, emerged from the qualifiers as the regular season champ and will receive a saddle before the start of the Junior NFR.
For Berry, the qualifiers reinvigorated his interest in the sport he loves.
“Steer wrestling has kind of been on the down swing the last few years and there haven’t been a whole lot of events like this,” he said. “So to me it’s exciting to see the numbers come back up and to have another venue that allows kids to show their skills.
“This year has been so much fun. Just to watch the numbers and to watch the events unfold, and just to see these kids competing from all different parts of the country.”
Berry sees the Junior NFR not only as a chance for kids to get to rodeo in Las Vegas, but as an opportunity for colleges to discover some future stars of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association.
“I’ve been working with some colleges on putting together some scholarships,” he said. “I really see this as a recruiting place for colleges. I really think in the next few years the Junior NFR will be a great spot for coaches to come and see the up-and-coming talent in our sport.”