The Washington State Fair Rodeo Weekend is coming up on its 83rd year, and John Growney has played a vital role in more than 25 of them.
Growney, a former rodeo competitor from California, works behind the scenes with the Fair as a stock contractor, providing bulls, horses, calves and steers that are used in the rodeo.
Over the weekend, Growney was at the Kitsap County Fairgrounds in Silverdale, where his stock played a part in the fair’s stampede.
“A lot of logistics go in to making sure that there’s room for all of the livestock,” said Growney, 68. “My job is to keep (stock contractors) organized so everything goes really smoothly.”
Aside from the Growney Brothers Rodeo Company, there are eight other stock contractors for the Fair. The Washington State Fair Rodeo is the biggest rodeo in the Northwest, with the best livestock and top 24 competitors moving on to the National Rodeo Finals in Las Vegas in December.
This year, Growney is providing the Fair with 15 bareback horses, 10 saddle broncs, 41 bulls, 70 calves and 140 steers. The stock will be used for the different events at the rodeo, which include bull riding, bareback riding, tie-down roping, team roping, steer wrestling, saddle bronc riding and barrel racing.
Because of his business, Growney spends over half the year traveling around to rodeos, and he always makes sure to come to Puyallup’s Washington State Fair.
“We start the first weekend in April and rodeo continuously until about the first part of October,” said Growney last week in between watching over bulls, horses and goats while preparing for the Kitsap County Fair & Stampede. “At the end of June, we come into the Northwest and we stay up here until the end of September.”
The rodeos Growney works with range in size, but he enjoys the Washington State Fair’s arena.
“The bleachers are right on top of the rodeo,” he said. “There’s not a bad spot in that arena. The fan base is sitting right there.”
Back home in Red Bluff, California, Growney houses 200 bucking bulls, 200 bucking horses and 400 calves and steers on more than 3,500 acres of land shared between three ranches and his two partners, Don Kish and Tim Bridwell.
There’s just as much importance in the livestock as there is in the cowboys. Cowboys can’t win anything if they don’t have good livestock.
Growney grew up in Red Bluff, where his love for rodeo began. He lived the life of a cowboy from a young age and is no stranger to rodeos. He remembers riding horses when he went to fairgrounds with his father.
“A lot of my dad’s friends were ranchers,” he said. “Through them I learned to be a cowboy. I learned to ride horses.”
When Growney was a freshman in high school, he met a friend whose brother rode bulls. When they went to a rodeo together, Growney entered in the junior rodeo and ended up winning.
“It elevated me in high school,” he said. “The next year I went back and won it again. It was something that just happened.”
After high school, Growney went to school at California State University Chico. At 23, Growney said he began to take rodeo more seriously, and won the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association’s (PRCA) Bull Rider of the Year in 1976.
In 1977, Growney acquired more livestock from family members, and the Growney Brothers Rodeo Company eventually formed in 1979.
Growney even played a role as himself in “8 Seconds,” a biographical movie released in 1994 about Lane Frost, the 1987 PRCA bull riding world champion. Now, Growney spends months out of the year traveling all over the country for rodeos for his business.
“We live on the road,” he said. “There’s about six or seven of us that travel together in different rigs.”
It takes a lot of effort to move the livestock, said the cowboy, but it’s important to provide them for professional rodeos — especially at the Washington State Fair, where the top cowboys at the Finals move on to Nationals.
“There’s just as much importance in the livestock as there is in the cowboys,” Growney said. “Cowboys can’t win anything if they don’t have good livestock.”
Almost every animal that Growney brings to the fair will be going to Nationals in December. Two of those animals are horses named Raggedy Anne and Beaver Fever, who will be in the Fair’s rodeo Finals on Sept. 11.
This year, with the Washington State Fair opening a week early, a new event called Ready to Rodeo is scheduled from 5 to 10 p.m. Sept. 6 at Pioneer Park in Puyallup. The event will feature activities, line dancing and live music, and is meant to introduce locals to cowboys competing in the rodeo. Growney will be at the event to talk about the rodeo, too.
The annual Cattle Parade, which opens Rodeo Weekend, was in part created by Growney, who had the idea for it. This year, the parade kicks off the rodeo at 10 a.m. Aug. 9.
For the full rodeo event schedule, visit thefair.com/rodeo.