From The Archives: East Texas rodeo stars

TYLER, Texas (KETK) –  In this From the Archives report from 2016 we go back to recognize the rodeo stars of East Texas.

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“Each time you get on [a bull] its almost like a drug,” Don Graham, former bull riding champion said.

Most people would be hesitant to take a bull for a ride, but some East Texans wouldn’t trade it for anything.

“It’s just one of those things, it was a big adrenaline rush. I am just a competitive person, I like to win at anything,” Cody Rostockyj said.

At the time, Rostockyj was a top 10 bull rider, one of many who put Texas on the rodeo map.

“It was a tradition here, and you not only wanted to ride bulls good, you wanted to be tough, you wanted to be respected by other bull riders,” said champion bull rider Terry Holland. “Man, I almost felt a burden to do that and follow in the footsteps of those guys.”

Holland is a Carthage native, and continued his involvement in the sport after retiring.

“Man, I was absolutely proud to be from East Texas and be a bull rider because we did, we had a reputation and most everybody who came from here tried to hold up to it,” Holland said.

Nicky Wheeler, another former champion, lived in Flint at the time and still held a deep passion for the sport.

“I counted up, there was at least 20 professional bull riders from right in this immediate area,” Wheeler said. “I mean, you could almost get on a bull somewhere any night.”

The former greats of East Texas saw the sport adapt quickly over time.

“We had great bulls back in the 70s and when I rode bulls in the 80s,” Holland said. “Now, when you go to a bull riding or a rodeo, every single bull is going to turn back, spin, buck and give you an opportunity to win. When I rode bulls, when I would go to a rodeo, there might be 15 guys a night and three or four of those guys actually have a good enough bull to place and win some money.”

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As times and bulls changed, the sport experienced a shift as well.

“The fact there are more good bulls to win money on, in the 70s, it was a lot more luck of the draw when you went to a rodeo to compete,” Graham said.

Glenn Sullivan, a former bull rider, traveled as a professional judge for bull riding.

“Nowadays, you don’t even have to call back and see what you got,” said Sullivan. “You’ve got a good bull nearly everywhere you go and all you’ve got to do is stay on.”

As the sport evolved to be more aggressive, safety standards changed drastically as well. Most bull riders can be seen wearing a vest, helmet and facemask while they ride.

“I had as bad a head injury as anybody,” said Roy Carter. “I crushed my face from my forehead down, but I never even thought about a mask and I think the vest is the best thing they came up with.”

Bull riders have also seen an improvement in pay.

According to ForbesProfessional Bull Riding (PBR) paid out nearly $10,000,000 to riders in 2012. These numbers are unrecognizable by the older generation of bull riding.

“These guys win more money in one year than we would win in our career. It’s unbelievable. It’s where it should be now,” Carter said.

As the sport continues to advance, it may become harder for new riders to join the competitive scene.

“Nowadays, it’s like going up against a 98 mph fastball and you’re 12 years old, it’s tough to learn that way” Holland said.

Despite the increase of challenge, Rostockyj said that every finals he sees Texas greatly represented.

“It’s always good to be a part of the best state,” Rostockyj said.

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