A Winning Tradition: Tarleton’s first rodeo team

By: Peggy Purser Freeman

In 1963, when Charles Bitters, Lionel Lane, and Randy Magers stepped boots on the Tarleton Campus, a rodeo team didn’t exist. There were no roping pens or stock, so they rounded up their friends from the FFA and American Junior Rodeo Association (AJRA) and recruited them to rodeo for Tarleton. By 1964, Tarleton filed to charter for a rodeo club and join the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA).

In 1965 this group of self-motivated, hard-working cowboys became the first team to qualify for the finals in Laramie, Wyoming, and they finished third. In 1967, the Tarleton team won the NIRA title. At the finals, held in St. George, Utah, they captured first place with 747 points, surpassing the 405 points California Polytechnic State University team acquired.

Magers-03Charles Bitters, Lionel Lane, and Randy Magers, along with Billy Albin, Johnny Kirk Edmondson, Bobby Hungate, and Terry Walls competed against some of the toughest guys that ever rodeoed–world record holders. That Championship Team and the team sponsors, Dr. Carl Chumney and Dr. Ken Dorris, all founders of the “Winning Tradition,” were recently inducted into the Tarleton State University Rodeo Hall of Fame in Stephenville and became part of the Stephenville Cowboy Capital Walk of Fame.
Charles Bitters, currently of Mineral Wells, shared his memories of that time. “Before I came to Tarleton, I was living in Austin, Texas, and I just hated every minute of it, because it was so big and so crowded. I fell in love with Stephenville and fell in love with Tarleton.” Bitters earned sixty points at the 1967 finals in the steer wrestling event. Bitters was involved in Texas High School Rodeo (THSRA) from 1990-97, serving as THSRA’s Region III president and director, and state vice president and director. “My wife and I stay active in the rodeo community,” Bitters added. “Every time we see young people in a rodeo we try to head them to Tarleton, especially if they’re good.”

CG064Randy Magers competed in bareback riding, bull riding, steer wrestling and calf roping. He was the NIRA’s 1965 reserve champion bull rider and the 1967 reserve champion bull rider, earning 181 points in bull riding in that one year. “Rodeo, and any aspect of rodeo, is about good attitude.” Magers explained, “You’ve got to have a cockiness, but you can’t carry it too far. What we had was a real team. Rodeo is an individual sport, but for us–we all six slept in the camper that first year. We rooted for each other. All sat on the back of the chute hollering for me to do good. We went everywhere together, and we paid our own way. Billy Albin’s father rented the Audie Murphy arena so we could practice. If I hadn’t of gone to school at Tarleton, I probably wouldn’t have ridden bulls. I grew up in calf roping, so I started in roping at Tarleton. At one rodeo my roommate needed a horse, so I loaned him my roping horse. There was a freak accident and my horse got killed. So I got on the bulls. What it boils down to is—I was a mediocre roper and pretty good bull rider.”

Magers was more than pretty good at riding bulls. In Laramie, Wyoming in 1965, he won third. He qualified for the NIRA finals every year he attended college. Magers qualified for the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) National Finals Rodeo nine times and was the reserve world champion in 1975-77. He rode in 101 rodeos and was thrown off only 19 times. He qualified for his first national finals by finishing in fifth place in world standings. The only bull rider to be featured on a Dr. Pepper bottle, Magers is shown riding the famous bucking bull, “No. 13.” He also rode a Hall of Fame bull named Oscar. More than 300 cowboys tried to ride Oscar, but only eight rides lasted eight seconds—two of those rides were by Magers. The 1975 NFR ride on Oscar gave Magers a reserve world champion. Today Randy Magers is a top American quarter horse rancher in Comanche. Out of six million horses in the American Quarter Horse Association (AQHA), only ninety horses have been honored in the AQHA Hall of Fame. Two of those highly prized animals come from the Albin and Magers family–Royal King and Pocotivio.

Magers-01Billy Albin began his rodeo career as a teen and was the world champion ribbon roper in AJRA in 1963. He won the AJRA world champion steer wrestler in 1964. Albin collected 60 points in the ribbon roping toward the team’s National Championship title in 1967. “The old days of competing in rodeos was nothing like today,” Albin explained. “We didn’t win big prize money or have fancy trailers with living quarters. For our first collegiate rodeo in Edinburg, Texas, we needed a camper for our 1950-something truck with a narrow bed. One teammate’s dad, who was in the funeral home business, had some casket crates we could use. We took the crates back to the school shop and made a camper and slept in it during the rodeo.” Billy competed as an accomplished cowboy in calf roping and steer wrestling. He qualified for the NIRA finals every year he attended college. Today he lives in Comanche. His meticulous craftsmanship as a braider has garnered worldwide attention. He braids artist cowboy tools, including bosals, quirts, hackamores, hobbles and more—all used by cowboys across the nation and a few around the world. His biggest fan is his wife, Glenda.

Magers-08Lionel Lane talked about being a young person in the 50s and 60s. “Starting a team was special to all of us. I’m proud to be part of that. The fact is we had to make it on our own. While I was in the American Junior Association, I picked up coke bottles for entry fees. At Tarleton we didn’t have anything either. The first year as we traveled to compete in rodeo, the six of us slept in the camper and cleaned up in the horse water trough. Lane rode bulls and bareback horses while at Tarleton. After the team won the title in 1967, Lane graduated with a year’s eligibility left and went to graduate school at Texas A&M. There he qualified again for the NIRA Finals in the bareback and bull riding held in Sacramento, California. He competed in rodeo for seven more years. In the mid-1970s, Lane moved to the Texas panhandle where he helped to organize the High Plains Junior Rodeo Association and continued to judge rodeos for several years. Lane is currently President of Lane Resources, representing Animal Health and Nutrition Companies nation wide.

Johnny Kirk Edmondson began roping at an early age. In 1966, he won AJRA calf roping, ribbon roping, steer wrestling and all-around titles. He started school at Tarleton in 1965. “We didn’t set out to start a dynasty,” Edmondson said. “We were doing rodeos for fun. We all grew up together through the Junior Rodeo–just all a bunch of cowboys. We needed the money for college and we had a desire to compete and win. We were “War Babies” and lucky to have a truck with a bumper hitch.”

Magers-05Edmondson made it to the college finals three out of the four years and later joined the PRCA, where he won the calf roping title the first year in the Texas Circuit. In 2014, he was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame in Fort Worth. “The people of the community were wonderful,” Edmondson added. The Woody Golightly family was especially good to my wife, Diltzie and me. We married in 1968 while we finished our degrees. I rodeoed until my son, Carter, was 19. We got to rope together at Denver Colorado Rodeo. That was the neatest thing out of the whole deal.” The Edmondsons made Tarleton a family affair with their children competing on the Tarleton rodeo team. Over the years Edmondson worked in the cattle and hay business near Sylvester.

Bobby Hungate started rodeoing at age ten and won his first world championship at age 15 in AJRA optional roping. Hungate shared his memories of that time, “I enrolled at Tarleton in 1965. That team had an atmosphere. Everybody supported their teammates. Billy, Randy, Charles and I even lived together. We were self-motivated.” Hungate won the calf roping, placed in the ribbon roping and won the All-Around Cowboy title at the college finals and accounted for 290 points. He qualified for the NIRA finals every year while he attended Tarleton. In 1973 Hungate started his professional career. His career came to its pinnacle in 1973 when he tied the fastest calf at Calgary Stampede and won second in the average. That same year he won the calf roping at the Astrodome in Houston to qualify for the 1973 PRCA National Finals. Hungate competed as a pro until he was 38 when he met his wife. Then he started farming hay, raising cattle and Dorper sheep. He and his wife, Jan, live in Waco, Texas where she is the Assistant Superintendent at West ISD.

Magers-07Terry Walls as a youngster won many titles and prizes in AJRA. “The kids nowadays don’t get to experience the ranch life we did,” Walls said. He qualified for the NIRA finals every year he attended college. “I was on an academic scholarship. My only B-grade happened because I was gone so much on rodeo.” Walls laughed, “I didn’t get a Doctor of Rodeo Bum. After graduation I only rodeoed for a couple of years, then leased a ranch. I felt I could make rodeo better by raising stock and producing rodeos.” Walls stays active in the Cowboys’ Professional Rodeo Association and produces events for United Professional Rodeo Association and Texas Cowboys Rodeo Association (TCRA). As owner, he sends rodeo stock to the Wrangler National Finals every year. In 2005 Wall’s company was voted Producer of the Year at the TCRA Finals. He added, “The Pro Rodeo suppliers call us for back up and that’s special for an old bum. The grandchildren of the guys I rode with are now riding on my stock. My son and daughter are involved in the business.” Terry Walls has truly made rodeo better, and he believes in payback, serving as the AJRA president. He lives in Goldthwaite

All of the members of the 1967 National Championship Team commended their sponsors. Dr. Chumney & Dr. Dorris found financial help, put together scholarships, and, as long as the cowboys kept their grades up, Chumney and Dorris would work with the professor to get time off for the team to compete.

Magers-04Dr. Chumney helped to organize the first rodeo team and served as their faculty coach for a decade, even though he never entered a rodeo himself. Over the years he and his wife Lou sewed team vests and flags, cooked countless team meals and traveled with Tarleton teams.
Dr. Dorris began rodeo in bull riding and bareback riding while in high school. After he served in the Korean War and received his doctorate of veterinary medicine from Texas A& M, he returned to Stephenville and donated his time as official veterinarian for all NIRA rodeos hosted by the school. He organized Stephenville Rodeo Scholarship Committee, which later became the TSU Rodeo Scholarship Association. Dr. Dorris and his wife, Virginia, founded the Cowboy Capital Walk of Fame in Stephenville.

Tarleton’s rodeo teams continue “A Winning Tradition” with six national championships, 21 individual national championships, and many NIRA Southwest Region titles. Each member of that 1967 National Championship Team made the same statement, “We were a real team.” In a sport that revolves around individual events, Tarleton’s first cowboys supported one another, rode hard, worked hard, and at the end of their time riding for Tarleton’s purple and white, they all graduated to become successful businessmen–a winning tradition.

Photos taken and provided by Mikka Hill Photography, Lionel Lane and Randy Magers