The tradition of Weatherford College sending competitors to the College National Finals Rodeo is well-known. Ever since 2005, WC has been a mainstay at the national championship event in Casper, Wyoming. This year is no different.
This week seven members of the program, including the history-making women’s team, are competing in the college’s 16th consecutive appearance at the CNFR.
And there for each one is Johnny Emmons, now in his ninth season (10th year due to COVID-19) as the WC rodeo team’s head coach. Emmons was an assistant under the late Mike Brown from 2005 to 2012.
“My thoughts are, “Wow, where did the time go?” It seems like just yesterday when I started,” Emmons said. “Our program has grown and improved each year along the way, and it has been a lot of fun.”
This year Emmons is accompanied by four members of the women’s team that became the first squad in WC history to win the Southwest Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. They are sophomore Kodey Hoss along with freshmen Sawyer Gilbert, Sophie Dunn and Bradi Good. Individually in the final regional standings, Gilbert was second in goat tying, Hoss was fourth in goat tying, Dunn was fourth in breakaway roping and Good was sixth in barrel racing.
Competing for the men is freshman Jace Helton, who won the region in team roping-heeler; returner Blake Bentley was third in team roping-heeler; and freshman Chance Thiessen was third in both team roping-header and tie-down roping.
“It is very special to be sending the most girls we ever have, along with three very talented guys this year,” Emmons said. “The quality of our program seems to improve each year. Our roster was very deep this year with talent.”
Emmons has a lot of memories of his time with the program, with his two most memorable coming during his time as head coach, he said.
“It’s a tie, first was qualifying our first men’s team to the CNFR back in 2014, and then again this year getting our first women’s team to the CNFR.”
The ever-modest Emmons gives much of the credit for his success as a head coach to his mentor and friend Brown.
“I think just trying to emulate the good man and teacher he was, has helped me more than anything. We shared many common thoughts, ideas, morals, etc.,” Emmons said. “I learned from him early on that recruiting quality people was better than recruiting only the winners. Not all winners fit into a quality program. I remember him saying something like, ‘If you have good people on the team, more good people will follow.’ So far, so good on that philosophy. It has seemed to work out pretty well for us over the years.”
Before becoming a coach, Emmons had a successful professional and college roping career of his own. A native of Arlington, Emmons grew up in rodeo and the rope business. His grandfather, Pete Emmons, earned a living making ropes and saddles with the Pete Emmons Rope Company in Grand Prairie. His father, Johnny Sr., invented the Nylon Piggin’ String in 1976 and developed some of the first colored and blended lariat ropes that are a staple of today’s rope market.
Johnny started his roping career at age 10 and competed in various junior and high school rodeo associations, including the AJRA, NTHSRA, LSHSRA, THSRA and the NHSRA. He won a Southwest Region team roping title and qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo in 1986 while attending Vernon College on a rodeo/baseball scholarship.
Emmons competed professionally from 1988 to 2012. He qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) five times: 1989, 1998 and 2001-2003. A former Texas Circuit all-around and three-time tie-down roping champion, Emmons qualified for the Texas Circuit Finals 20 consecutive years (1988-2007), including five appearances in team roping.
The 1988 Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Texas Rookie of the Year, Emmons had more than $800,000 in career earnings and, in 2014, was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame.
“I think my pro career has helped me in many ways, especially in recruiting and in the coaching aspect of it. I think the students respect me because I have been there and done that, as it relates to their goals and dreams. I can relate to and with them because I did junior, high school and college rodeo just like they have,” Emmons said. “I know how they feel, the things they are going through and, hopefully, with my experience, I can head off some mistakes and save them a lot of time and agony correcting those mistakes as they move on into their adult careers.”
And while it’s been a great ride — no pun intended — for Emmons, he said there is more he’d like to accomplish before his coaching days are over.
“My goal since I started is to win some national championships. I would love to win both the men’s and women’s national championship in the same year,” he said. “But, more importantly, my main everyday goal is to continue growing and improving our rodeo program with quality people and facilities. Weatherford is cowboy country, and I want to have a rodeo program that our school and city can be proud of.”
And he doesn’t see his coaching career ending any time soon. He said he loves his job and the influx of new students every few years keeps it exciting. Add to that the administration, faculty, and staff support, and Emmons is looking forward to many more years at WC.
“It’s no wonder almost all of my kids want to stay at WC for their entire college career,” he said. “I can’t tell you how many kids that have moved on from WC come up to me and say they wished they could have just stayed at WC because they loved it here.
“And those same kids go out and tell everyone they know how great it was for them at WC, which is probably the reason we will have over 70 members on the team next year. When I started in 2005, we had 25 members, and that number has grown every year since then.”