The Duncan Banner
A special awards brunch was held Saturday for the top 12 barrel racing contestants who have been competing this weekend in the Chisholm Trail Ram Prairie Circuit Finals Rodeo at Stephens County Fair & Expo Center. The event was hosted by the Women's Professional Rodeo Association Prairie Circuit.
Guest speaker was Florence Youree of Addington who was one of the early players in paving the way for barrel racers. She, along with lifelong best friend Mildred Farris, who died earlier this year at the age of 80, met at a rodeo when they were 16 and 17 years old. Youree told the attendees how they met and shared a few stories about their road trips to rodeos and competitions. Youree was the 1966 Gir's Rodeo Association Champion. That was before it was changed to WPRA.
Eventually, the two women were designated positions within the association, doing tasks as secretary or treasurer, and such.
"The California girls called us the Addington Mafia," Youree said, which brought laughter from the entire room, especially from those who know the small community.
Mildred's husband and lifelong partner and friend, John, was present at the bruncheon to hear his wife being honored. She was a Reserve World Champion 3x, WPRA Director, Vice President, President and Secretary of the Year 10 times, among many other awards.
"She was born and raised on a ranch and worked like one of the cowboys. Mildred loved carrying the flag and did it so graciously," Youree said. "We really did a lot to better the barrel racing."
As the crowd listened to, it was obvious they agreed and held great respect for the older women. One of those is in the top 12 and on Friday, raced her way to the victory lap, with a 16.03 time. June Holeman from Arcadia, Neb., is 70 years old and in 2005, was the oldest competitor to compete in the National Finals Rodeo. She holds that record even now.
Youree and Holeman shared a conversation prior to the awards ceremony, as Youree congratulated her. Holeman's smile was as youthful as any of the other competitors.Later she said she will continue to compete as long as she can. She and the other 11 women will race one more time tonight and then she will head to Waco, Texas for the WPRA Finals.
Rodeo announcer Scott Grover led the brunch and awards ceremony.
"It is outstanding what this group does. You are true professionals and barrel racing, if set up right, is the most exciting game of the evening," he said. Then he congratulated the local rodeo committee, along with the Prairie Circuit for making this year's rodeo so successful and interesting.
The 12 barrel racers are: Ashlie Withrow, Henryetta, OK; June Holeman, Aracadia, Neb.; Alexia Mehrle, Nowata, OK; Hollie Etbauer, Edmond, OK; Kyra Stierwalt, Leedey, OK; Tana Poppino, Big Cabin,OK: Jessie Eagleberger, Stringtown, OK; Cindy Gillespie, Ransom, Kan.; Carol Chesher, Stratford, Tex.; Tana Renick, Kingston, OK; Emily Miller, Weatherford, OK; and Gretchen Benebenek, Aubrey, Texas.
Miller was also recognized as the youngest of the group and also as the second top racer. Benbenek was noted as the top. The women received numerous gifts from sponsors, including Montana Silversmith belt buckles.
Duncan Regional Hospital and the Imaging Center was also recognized for its contribution to the brunch.
The rodeo begins 7:30 p.m. tonight and lasts about 2 hours.
Joe Henderson, co-chairman of the event, is hoping people will take advantage of the good weather and show up to pack the stands for the final night. This is the second year for this rodeo to be hosted in Duncan.
He said he was pleased with Friday's turnout considering the wet weather. He had no complaints about the rain either.