Articles & Pictures by St. Joseph News-Press



Kyle Maxwell rides the bull Steve McQueen in round one of the National Federation of Professional Bullriders finals on Thursday night at Civic Arena. (JESSICA STEWART/St. Joseph News-Press)

Good rides pace Harris


Most bullriders say the season standings do not matter once the federation finals begin.

That may be true, but try convincing Jeremy Harris of that fact.

Harris entered the National Federation of Professional Bullriders Federation Finals in first place in the season standings, and that is exactly where he sits after the first two rounds on Thursday in Civic Arena.

Harris (Ravenden, Ark.) scored an 82 on Pistol Pete in the first round — one of five riders who notched that same score on their first bull — but saved his best riding for round two. Harris’ 87-point ride on Hot Spot was the night’s highest score and made him one of four riders to ride their first two bulls.

Both of Harris’ bulls hailed from his home state of Arkansas, and he said the quality of the bulls gave him what he needed to set the early pace.

First place after two rides is nice, but Harris wants more.

“I’m going to nod my head on six of them, and I plan on riding six of them,” Harris said. “I don’t know what the odds are, but I you guarantee I’ll be trying until my head is on the ground every time.”

Curt Check of Eastman, Wis., won two rounds in last year’s finals, but was not as lucky Thursday.

Tyler Adrian (Kirbyville, Mo.) leads the rookie of the year race, despite missing the past three months with a shoulder injury. The injury forced Adrian to ride with his right arm down, a switch from his usual left arm down style.

“It’s a big change, but really it feels comfortable,” Adrian said. “Obviously we’re coming here and getting on the best bulls that we’ve gotten on all season, and it’s obviously a challenge either way. Anything that adds more of a challenge to it is going to have an effect.”

Check was injured when his first bull bucked him off and landed on his side with both hind legs. Check ran over to the fence before collapsing in pain and left the arena on a stretcher. A protective vest prevented serious injury, however, and the announcer told the crowd at the end of the night that Check planned to return for the rest of the finals.

Jeep Steenhook (Norwalk, Iowa) won the first round with an 85 on Double Down.

The Federation Finals resume at 8 tonight with rounds three and four. The finals conclude on Saturday.



Bucking in the mainstream
Bullriding is hotter than ever


For two more nights, an adrenaline-fueled battle between man and beast continues inside Civic Arena.

The second round of finals for the National Federation of Professional Bullriders starts at 8 p.m. tonight. The show wraps up on Saturday.

Once a fringy activity for cowpokes only, the extreme sport of bullriding has bucked its way into mainstream entertainment over the last decade and now picks up new fans at a pace rivaling NASCAR.

“It’s the hottest it’s ever been,” says Clint Jackson of Mansfield, Mo.

In 1995, when he founded the NFPB, only a handful of other associations devoted purely to bullriding events existed. Even Professional Bull Riders Inc.,

which remains one of the most respected bullriding organizations, had only been around for three years.

“Now,” Jackson says, “I can pick up a magazine and there’s probably 70, 80 associations across the country.”

The NFPB finals came to St. Joseph for the first time in 1999. The event was a sellout, one of the first four capacity crowds the arena ever held.

“People were scalping tickets on the street,” recalls finals director Rex Strayer of St. Joseph.

Bullriding attendance has remained steady since then. The sport’s growth is more evident, Jackson says, in metropolitan areas like Chicago, where daily life is even more removed from cowboy culture.

“It’s Chicago,” he says. “It’s the Windy City. It’s very urban, yet you’re seeing more and more extreme fans and growth and support in that area.”


National TV coverage helps by exposing city slickers to a thrill they may have never witnessed live.

PBR events started airing in the late 1990s and are now sports network staples.

The sport also inspired a TLC reality TV show, “Beyond the Bull,” which provides a longer than eight second glimpse into the lives of bullriders.

“It’s just kind of like NASCAR was back in its earlier days when people were just starting to learn about the drivers, the cars and the teams,” Keith Dressel says. “It became a word of mouth thing that this was such an exciting thing to watch.”

Dressel, president and chief executive officer of Adrenaline Nation TV, is producing another reality series about bullriders that debuts on Fox Sports Net in May.

“Live to Ride” focuses more on the bulls than the riders, following fierce buckers like Jager Bomb to events all over the country.

“We follow the stock because the better the stock, the better the riders that come to ride,” Dressel says.

Another parallel between NASCAR and bullriding is in the marketing.

Both sports carry the potential for deadly danger but are promoted as thrills that anyone can get into.

Unlike other professional athletes, bullriders aren’t known for fighting each other or arguing with the judges, Strayer says.

“The whole family can come to bullriding and be completely enthralled, entertained and focused for a few hours,” Dressel says. “And when they leave, they’re still talking about what happened.”

Among the sights he’ll be talking about for years: A bull so strong that it got its horns underneath a lower rail of fencing and lifted half of a ring about 18 inches off the ground.

“Trust me,” Dressel says, “your heart beats very, very quickly when you see that.”


Seamans rides into lead


Immediately after his ride, Curtis Seamans went to the conference room in Civic Arena and described his recent adventure to anyone who would listen.

Seamans had reason to be excited.

His 88-point ride on ZZ Top was good enough for the round four win and vaulted him into first place by one point in the National Federation of Professional Bullriders Federation Finals on Friday.

ZZ Top jumped twice out of the gate, then flattened out into several spins that grew quicker as the 8-second buzzer neared.

Seamans (Imboden, Ark.) threw his hat in the air and yelled after the ride, knowing that he had just grabbed a high score.

“He just kept getting better and better,” Seamans said. “He started spinning and I kept telling myself ‘He’s got me throwed, he’s got me throwed,’ but I hung on.”

Seamans’ score was the highest of the weekend, and puts him in first with 253 points. Fellow Arkansas native Jeremy Harris (Ravenden, Ark.) sits in second place with 252 points.

Seth Reynolds gave Missouri fans something to cheer for with his 85-point ride in round three. Reynolds rode the bull Cowtown to the top score in the round.

Reynolds, a Lockwood, Mo. native, also had an 85-point ride on Thursday. The two rides were not as similar as the scores suggest.

“(Thursday) night was tougher,” Reynolds said. “Tonight he threw me out of balance early, and the way I rode made him look a little more buckinger than he really was.”

After Friday, no cowboy has a shot to replicate Virgil Alsup’s six-ride feat from last year.

Four riders entered the night 2 for 2 in their rides, but Harris was the only one to go 3 for 3. Harris lost his bid for perfection in round four when Mr. Obvious threw him to the dirt.

The finals conclude at 8 tonight.



Bull market for St. Joseph rider

Ben Barsch rides on Friday night at the NFPB finals. Most riders start at a young age, but Barsch — an Iraqi War veteran — started riding bulls after high school. (JESSICA STEWART/St. Joseph News-Press)


As an Iraq war veteran, Barsch knows about tough


Ben Barsch just needed a little time alone to blow off some steam after his fourth unsuccessful bull ride.

Following his jaunt on Rodeo Cat on Friday, Barsch retreated under the Civic Arena bleachers and pounded the wall in frustration before he emerged several minutes later.

Nine other cowboys shared Barsch’s pain of a scoreless first four rounds at the National Federation of Professional Bullriders Finals, but none of the others had to deal with Barsch’s pressure.

After all, he is the hometown cowboy.

Barsch, 26, graduated from Savannah High School in 1998 and lives in St. Joseph where he works as a union carpenter.

“I’ve really been looking forward to it of course,” Barsch said about the chance to ride in front of the home crowd. “I just want to show everybody what I can do, but I’ve yet to do that.”

Despite losing his first four battles with the bulls, Barsch has done plenty to earn the crowd’s support — much of it before the event even started.

In March 2003, while Barsch’s competitors were riding bulls, he rode in a military convoy in the initial invasion of Iraq.

Barsch dodged most of the major combat during his nine-month tour overseas with the Marines, but that did little to comfort his mother.

“When he’s riding bulls, it’s only eight seconds — a really short worry — and when he was in Iraq, it was an every day all-the-time worry,” Patti Barsch said. “I don’t lose any sleep over him riding bulls.”

Less than a month after his return from Iraq, Barsch returned to bullriding.

“I probably should have taken a little more time and practiced a little more, but I just got right back into it at first,” Barsch said.

Barsch battled various injuries for the past two years — including a pulled groin that still hasn’t healed since August and an injured bicep he tapes before every competition. He qualified 25th out of more than 200 bullriders for a spot in the finals despite not starting the sports until after high school.

“I definitely got a late start on it,” Barsch said. “A lot of these guys have been riding since they were knee-high to a grasshopper, climbing on steers and whatever since they were 10. Unfortunately, I wasn’t doing that.”

Barsch said that the joy of beating a bull head-to-head is his favorite part of bullriding, and he hopes to ride that feeling as long as he can.

“Some guys, physically, their bodies can handle it, and other guys, their bodies break down a little sooner,” Barsch said. “I’ll take it about as far as my body will let me.”

Even though his days in the Marine Corps have passed, Barsch could make the military his career. He recently joined the Air National Guard’s 139th Airlift Wing at Rosecrans Memorial Airport. Among bullriding, carpentry and the military, Barsch has a few scheduling problems.

“I don’t want to say it’s a disadvantage, but with a full-time job, guys don’t want to let you off work, and juggling a military career with that,” Barsch said. “It takes a toll on you, there’s not enough time in the day anymore.”

Any direction Barsch chooses will please his father.

“I’m just proud of him no matter what he does,” Cletus Barsch said.




Harris claims finals title


Victory laps are uncommon in bullriding, but Jeremy Harris got to take one Saturday night.

Harris clinched the National Federation of Professional Bullriders Federation Finals title before he even sat on his final bull, but he still had reason to ride one more time at Civic Arena.

“I said before that I wanted to ride all six bulls,” Harris said. “I knew I couldn’t do that, but I wasn’t going to give up on any of them.”

Harris’ last trip paid off, as his 88-point ride on Buzzard Bait grabbed him a share of the round six lead — meaning one more bonus paycheck.

Harris (Ravenden, Ark.) won both rounds on Saturday, and his 89-point conquest of Black Magic in round five was the highest score of the weekend.

The finals win extended Harris’ season-earnings record and put an exclamation point on his Federation Cup win. The cup goes to the cowboy with the highest earnings total for the season.

Terry Dabney (Marshfield, Mo.) shared the round-six win with an 88 on Cinch Loose. It was Dabney’s first successful ride of the weekend.

“I was glad,” Dabney said. “I haven’t won a round up here before. I’ve been up here three years and that was the first one I’ve won.”