Former OPSU Cowboys Muncy and Johnson Crowned World Champs—By Chaney Latham on 12/21/2011 Every cowboy and cowgirl dreams of competing at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR), the Super Bowl of Rodeo held every year in Las Vegas. It is a ten-day event every December at the Thomas and Mack Center where the top rodeo athletes of the world compete head-to-head for the most coveted award in rodeo, a world title and a gold buckle. This year, two Oklahoma Panhandle State University alums, Taos Muncy and Jhett Johnson, captured world titles, Muncy in the saddle bronc riding and Johnson as a heeler in the team roping.
While competing for OPSU in 2007, Muncy won the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) saddle bronc title and dominated as a professional when he won his first world championship in the saddle bronc riding the same year. He was the youngest bronc rider to ever attain this feat. The following couple of years were tough for Muncy, who broke his leg twice, but no challenge seems too tough for the Corona, N.M. cowboy, and he soon climbed his way back up to the top.
Muncy had some difficulty at the Finals this December, but came in with enough total money won for the entire year that he was able to hang on to the top spot. Jesse Wright, whose younger brother Spencer Wright competed for OPSU last year, nearly closed the gap between him and Taos by winning four of the ten rounds at $17,884.62 for each. Also, after earning the most money after riding 10 head, Wright won an additional $43,000 and he almost passed Muncy to win the title.
Taos Muncy completed a phenomenal year with major wins such as the legendary Pendleton Roundup in Pendleton, Oregon, and took Canada by storm when he won the Canadian Pro Rodeo Championship in the saddle bronc riding as well.
Muncy held on to his much-deserved gold buckle by not giving up and taking one ride at a time. The championship title became a battle between Muncy and Wright's tenth and final ride. Wright had the horse to draw between the two, a two-time saddle bronc Horse of the Year, Painted Valley, owned by well-known stock contractor Harry Vold. Taos had a good horse as well, Spring Planting, but it would be a close race. In the end, Painted Valley didn't have his usual trip, and Muncy was able to beat Wright by a point and a half to seal the lead and championship.
Muncy finished second in the average to Wright, winning $37,212 by managing to ride all ten of his broncs which is a very tough task to accomplish. He won round 7 of the NFR with a 86.5 ride on a horse called Blew Apart, plus placed in five of the ten rounds, once splitting second and third with Cody Wright in the ninth round on the horse Chuckulator with an 82-point ride. Claiming the world title was no easy task for Muncy, and he earned his 2011 Championship gold buckle with each ride he made. The always-humble Muncy stated, "My goal was to ride all ten, and it worked out; it was a long eight seconds on the last one seemed like, but it meant a lot to me to get all ten rode." And with this achieved, Muncy won the saddle bronc riding world title with $249, 914 total money earned for the season. The NFR paychecks alone will certainly be a good Christmas bonus for him to take home New Mexico to share with his wife Marissa and new baby girl Marley.
As for Jhett Johnson in the team roping, he and header Turtle Powell roped their way to the top of the standings at the Thomas and Mack. Going into the Finals, Johnson and Powell were twelfth and thirteenth overall, $47,267 behind Derrick Begay and Cesar de la Cruz at the top spot. Both men roped consistently all ten days though, proving how important that consistency is. This was Johnson's fifth and best year to compete at the WNFR. A Casper, Wyoming native, Johnson is a graduate of OPSU and College National Finals Rodeo team roping reserve champion in 1993.
Powell and Johnson had an outstanding ten days in Vegas. They split tied for first round 3 with a time of 4.10, won the fifth round with a smoking run of 3.80, and placed in eight of the ten rounds, finishing in the top 3 in five of the ten rounds. At one point during the commentary of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, Joe Beaver exclaimed, "Johnson's been on fire, he can't miss!" The duo did work every day of the finals; they were the most consistent, and really just outroped the competition. Johnson stated to TwisTEDrodeo at the end of round six, "It's been the best finals I've ever had, and there are still four more to go." And with the four more rounds, Johnson and Powell dominated the quest of a World Championship with winning the average and taking home $125, 625 from the 10 days in Vegas.
Another OPSU alum this year in Las Vegas, Jesse Bail of Camp Crook, S.D. finished 2011 with a seventh place finish in the world standings, earning over $33,000 in Las Vegas. In 2000, he won the national All-Around title at CNFR, plus placed fourth in steer wrestling, fourth in bull riding, and sixth in saddle bronc, boosting the OPSU men's team to a national title that year.
Rounding out the 4 cowboys with a background at OPSU this year at the WNFR was another Wyoming native, Seth Glause. He competed for OPSU at the 2010 College National Finals Rodeo in the bull riding. This was Glause's third trip to Vegas, and he started the rodeo off with a bang, taking the first go round win in the bull riding with an 86.5 ride on a bull named Gangster. He went on to place in two more rounds, and win about $30,000 over the ten-day event. His dad, Tom Glause, a very proud father and former PRCA saddle bronc rider himself, could be seen cheering his son on every night behind the bucking chutes of the Thomas and Mack.
Muncy's travel partner and brother-in-law Cody Taton, a member of the OPSU College National Finals Champion Team in 2004 and average winner of the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2008, did not make it in the top 15 to qualify for this year's WNFR. He did, however, have a very important job as the bronc riding director. He chose all of the top broncs that were bucked at this year's Finals. He has been the director for two years now, and has done a tremendous job as one can see with the rank horses chosen for this prestigious world event.
"A Winning Tradition" has been the Oklahoma Panhandle State University Rodeo team's motto for many years now, and the tradition was honored and well represented by all former cowboys at this year's Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. We are proud of you all! Congratulations to Jhett Johnson and Taos Muncy, world champions of 2011!