Championship Pro Rodeo Takes Big Strides


LEEDEY, Okla. – The first few months of any life features incredible growth. 

From infancy to toddler, forms change shape as the foundation develops. From babies and foals to ideas and dreams, the day-to-day gains are magnificent. Will and Dusta O’Connell have experienced it two-fold over the last year. 

Their son, Jasper, just turned a year old, and so did the couple’s sole ownership of Championship Pro Rodeo, a livestock producer based in western Oklahoma. While Jasper has gone from crawling to walking to running, the rodeo company has taken even bigger strides, more than doubling the number of events it produces. 

“It’s rewarding, to say the least,” Will O’Connell said, noting that Championship Pro Rodeo will produce seven events in 2024, including new stops in Ponca, Nebraska; Belle Fourche, South Dakota; Vinita, Oklahoma; and the Converse County Xtreme Broncs in Douglas, Wyoming. “It says something to catch the eyes of people who see what we’re capable of doing.

“Both Belle Fourche and Ponca have been around for a long time: This is Belle Fourche’s 105th year, and it’s the 56th year of the Days of ’56. For them to see something in us to make the change with only one year under our belts is a really big deal. It makes us feel like we’re doing something right.” 

Championship Pro Rodeo also produces events in Palestine, Illinois; Wahoo, Nebraska; and Madison, Indiana. By adding four rodeos to the schedule, the firm is gaining more popularity and prestige. It’s a step-by-step process that serves as a proving ground for the family that took the reins of the company a little more then a year ago. 

The O’Connells were raised around the sport. Dusta O’Connell is the daughter of Jennifer Spencer and well-known rodeo clown Ted Kimzey. The oldest of three children, she and her brothers, Sage and Trey Kimzey, were accomplished trick riders as youngsters. While Sage and Trey ride bulls professionally now, Dusta continues to perform and compete when opportunities arise.

Will O’Connell is the son of Joann and Ray O’Connell, the latter of whom has been involved in rodeo production as a pickup man. Will O’Connell was a contestant, a pickup man and a bullfighter before becoming a livestock producer. 

By combining two lifetimes of rodeo background and know-how, the O’Connells are taking Championship Pro Rodeo up the ladder of success at a sharpened pace. 

“I had the opportunity to work for a lot of the best stock contractors in the PRCA,” Will O’Connell said. “The thing we’re putting into this company is the stuff I took from each one of those stock contractors. I got the opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t work, and I took little bits and pieces of what I liked, and that’s what I put together in our own production. 

“We strive to bring openings and closings and the product that keeps people entertained. It’s more than our livestock. You can have great horses and great bulls and great timed-event cattle, but if you don’t produce it in a way to sell it to people to keep them entertained, you’re not going to have a product to sell for very long.” 

It’s a commodity that’s for sale, not on sale, and the proof is showing up day after day. Last year alone, Championship Pro Rodeo had 14 animals chosen to perform at the National Finals Rodeo. For a man who works with his herd daily, there is great pride in the animal athletes the family has. 

Take The Crow, a powerful black horse that carried 2022 bareback riding world champion Jess Pope to 88.5 points and the victory in last December’s eighth round, which featured the hardest-to-ride broncs in rodeo. 

“I knew I had pretty good odds of having a good shot at winning,” Pope said six months ago. “I got on that horse in the short round at Dodge City (Kansas) and got along really well. I was pretty tickled about it.”

In addition to the events the firm produces, Championship Pro Rodeo is featured at several other big events across the country, like Dodge City; Spanish Fork, Utah; Arcadia, Florida; Montgomery, Alabama; Corpus Christi, Texas; Salt Lake City; and The American. 

“These are rodeos that pay large amounts of money,” Will O’Connell said. “For them to win that kind of money on our stock means a lot to us.” 

It’s not just what the company has now that stands out. It’s what the O’Connells are doing to increase and improve their herd. 

“We’ve definitely been adding,” he said. “It’s like any major sport; if you’re consistently playing the same players, eventually players get old or get hurt or get worn out. If you’re not constantly looking for the next young superstar, you’re eventually going to have players that can’t play anymore. 

“Whether it’s horses or bulls or saddle horses, we’re always looking form something that’s capable of being the next superstar in our herd. Today’s highlight reel is tomorrow’s memory.” 

It’s a progressive approach to a game that’s more than a century old, but it’s why Championship Pro Rodeo continues to grow and prosper.