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Okmulgee Rodeo Tradition Still Going 58 Years Later

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OKMULGEE, Oklahoma -

A rodeo has its challenges. Whether you try to wrestle down a steer or try to rope a calf down and tie it, be quick around the barrels or try to balance yourself on a bull. But the biggest challenge belonged to name sake of the annual Roy LeBlanc Invitational Rodeo in Okmulgee.

"My dad wanted to keep this rodeo going and if he were alive I know he would," Kenneth LeBlanc said.

Kenneth's father Roy was one of the first African-American professional rodeo cowboys. 58 years ago, LeBlanc and a few other black cowboys had to start their own event. Thus the Okmulgee Rodeo Invitational was born.

"It's more than a tradition," LeBlanc said. "Now it's getting to be more of a legend."

Muskogee native Gerald Vaughn has fond memories of the event.

"I started coming here when I was just a little bitty boy," Vaughn recalled. "And being able to still compete here, I mean you can't explain it."

"A black man that created this sport," Okmulgee native David Reagor said. "You know you can't put words on it. It's a dream to be a black man and compete at the same level."

When this competition began it was the only competition black people could compete in. Now-a-days it's a proving ground for black cowboys to hopefully become professional rodeo cowboys. For many of them, they've succeeded in their dreams.

Oklahoman Ronnie Fields succeeded, becoming a three-time international steer wrestling champion.

"I was that kid at one time running around here," Fields said. "And for me to take that torch and to have the young kids looking up to me now, it's unbelievable."

Many others are honing their craft in Okmulgee to take to the next level, although at times, they're still stand-out among the competition.

"I've been places where I was the only African-American there," Fields said. "The only one competing there but that didn't bother me because I had a goal in my head that that's what I wanted to do."

In Okmulgee, their style and competitions, including events like the Pony Express, is all a homage to those that came before them in hopes that they can generate another great rodeo cowboy.

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