With a final run of 7.2 seconds, professional team ropers Junior Dees and Lane Siggins won the richest event of their sport and split a first-place paycheck worth $120,000 at the 42nd Annual Bob Feist Invitational on June 25 in Reno.
“I felt like we were 9 seconds on that run, and when the announcer said 7, my hat just came off,” Siggins, 26, said later. “I’ve been practicing to win the BFI at my house since I was 5 years old. I was ready for that victory lap.”
The first-place prize at the BFI often marks the biggest win of a roper’s life. This year it was held in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the Reno Rodeo. The BFI is the most lucrative but challenging team roping event for professionals in America. Under the traditional format, the 100 best teams in the world are invited to rope six fast steers over an 18-foot head start for a purse of more than $600,000 in cash and prizes.
A new award this year for the overall fastest time in the first five rounds was given in memory of former BFI champion and three-time fast-time winner Rickey Green. It went to Tyler Wade and Billie Jack Saebens, who clocked a 4.57 to win the third round.
Over five steers, Dees, 21, and Siggins became the high callback team and would compete last. They watched six straight teams make clean runs and needed an 8.47 for the aggregate win. Their 7.2 edged the six-head time of Oklahoma ropers Cale Markham and Brye Crites by about a second.
Crites, 25, said he will pay off his trailer with his portion of the $90,000 he won with Markham, 28. Crites works full-time in an in-vitro fertilization lab in Welch, while Markham’s family produces ropings and has Animal Health Supply Inc., in Vinita, Oklahoma.
Siggins said that Dees had just made him a superstar. In fact, this was just Dees’ second time in the BFI, but Siggins had been entering it since he was a teenager.
“As someone who grew up jackpoting, it’s been tough to never get past the first steer here,” Siggins said. “But Junior and I have chemistry. There’s no heat roping with him, no pressure. And we’re on the same page financially; if we don’t win, we have to go home. Thanks to John Thompson of Thompson Carriers for paying our entry fees.”
The Siggins family makes a living near Coolidge, Arizona, riding, training and selling roping horses. When Dees arrived at their house last fall, it was to further his own career riding and training horses. By March, he and Lane had become fast friends and began to enter rodeos together.
“We just click,” Dees said. “We get along, he’s like a brother to me. We just have fun and have had luck together.”
Dees spent his early childhood in Arizona, too, before cutting his teeth as a roper in South Dakota. During the BFI he was on the phone with his mentor, three-time NFR heeler Matt Zancanella, after every steer. Siggins got a little remote coaching from Zancanella after missing the haze on the first BFI steer.
“I’ve wanted to win this all my life,” said Dees, who basically grew up on the arena floor at places like the BFI, watching Zancanella compete.
Amateur ropers win $200,000
Teacher Jody Higgins of Monroe, Louisiana, and his horse-trading friend Mark Smith, of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, teamed up at the last minute to split $200,000 in the Wrangler National Patriot #11.5 roping in Reno.
Higgins, 39, became tearful on stage accepting prizes, both because he won with his father figure and because the win came after he fought to recover from cancer treatment that prevented him from swinging a rope for years.
“I’m going to frame this money and put it on the wall,” said Higgins, who is a fifth-grade special education teacher.
The event for amateur ropers was founded in 1996 by local real estate developer Perry DiLoreto. Designed to give equally matched amateur ropers across the country a chance at six-figure payouts, the event uses a handicapping system similar to golf.
“I haven’t roped much since I got tonsil cancer in 2012,” Higgins said. “I had a lot of radiation, and my shoulder really deteriorated. I couldn’t swing a heel rope. It took four years of therapy until I could rope again and a lot of hard work to get where I could win again. It makes you take a second look at life and be glad you made it. I’m healthy now and very blessed. And this guy’s been like a dad to me.”
Smith, the father of defending PRCA world champion header Clay Smith, stepped in after Higgins’ scheduled partner had to draw out because of heart trouble. The pair earned the second-highest callback in the short round after catching three steers in 30.44 seconds. After making a smooth run of 9.33 in the finals, they watched as the final team’s head loop missed. The win was the richest of both men’s amateur careers.
Smith repeats, wins $10,000
Britt Smith of Broken Bow, Oklahoma, became the Hooey Junior BFI Championships Open heading champ for the second consecutive year June 22, this time with defending national high school champion heeler Breck Ward of Jerome, Idaho. The pair roped four steers in 34.58 seconds to split $20,000, edging Cash Duty and J.R. Gonzalez by two seconds.
The second annual event for kids 17 and under is patterned after the richest Open roping in America, the 42-year-old Bob Feist Invitational, held in conjunction with the Reno Rodeo. It consists of the Junior Open and the Junior #10.5, which limits individual ropers’ classifications to #6.
This year, both ropings served as direct qualifiers to the annual Junior World Finals in Las Vegas, so the top five teams in each roping qualified to rope in Las Vegas.
Last year, Smith split $15,000 when he won the Junior Open with Wyoming’s Carson Johnson, but the two didn’t have any luck together this year. Instead, Smith and Ward were the high callback team and needed an 8.4-second run to win the roping. Their 6.2 easily gave them the title, the big cash paycheck plus a truckload of prizes. Ward, a 17-year-old No. 8 heeler, is the defending National High School Finals Rodeo team roping champion.
“I’d never heard of Breck until I’d seen him rope here last year,” said Smith. “That’s what’s so neat about this roping. They’re doing a great thing here, and it paid more this year. Hopefully it just gets bigger and bigger, and I’m so glad they have the #10.5, too, for the younger kids. What a cool way to prepare for the real BFI one day.”
In the #10.5, Cole Bunting and Stoney Boy Joseph won the aggregate with a four-head time of 35.57. They bested last year’s heading champ, Jett Stewart, and Nicky Northcott by four seconds to split $16,640.
Smith, a #8 header, is the youngest brother of defending world champion header Clay Smith.
Britt entered the actual BFI this year, as well, with the third Smith brother, Jake. The pair placed second in the third round of the BFI on a run of 4.66 seconds to split $6,000.
“I can remember since I was little, I’d watch BFI videos until I fell asleep at night,” Smith said. “You can play the same one over and over and always catch something new.”
While in Reno, Britt also competed in World Series of Team Roping contests just outside town and won an Open roping with Gonzalez for another $3,600 per man. His total cash haul during Wrangler BFI Week came to $16,600.