The Inside Scoop with ACTRA President, Clyde Saunders

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SWR: So Clyde, ACTRA has been around since 1983, but your organization maybe isn't as well-known as some others. What is it about the American Cowboys Team Roping Association that sets you apart from other associations?

Clyde: I believe the fact that it's owned and operated by its members and it's strictly non-profit is the biggest difference in it.

SWR: So as a non-profit, what does ACTRA do that other associations don't?

Clyde: What ACTRA does that other associations don't do, I believe, is it lets ropers control their destiny. Everybody's an owner in the association and you're vested in the outcome of the association.

SWR: How has ACTRA grown over the years?

Clyde: The roots of our association were with the smaller arena and the contractor that put on weekly or bi-monthly type team ropings. It's grown past that now and we have larger ropings, benefit ropings and everything on down.

One thing I'd like to emphasize is that we're probably the best-kept secret in team roping. We've been in existence for 25 years. We were one of the originators of the handicapping system. Back then, we used a money-won system. We've kind of flourished in Washington, Idaho, Nevada and California for the last 25 years and we were kind of happy with that. We've had so much interest in about the last four years-people who want to be a part of it came to us-so that's where our expansion is coming from now: Word of mouth and the way our organization has performed and what it's about.

For 20 years, we just kind of did our thing and went along. About three years ago, a group came from Colorado and a group came from Hawaii and asked if they could join. As a national board, we looked back on what we were doing and how we were doing things and decided that it would be a benefit in a lot of different places for a lot of team ropers if we decided to let other people join. Right now, we have chapters in 12 states, including Hawaii and we have members in somewhere around 20 states and two Canadian provinces.

SWR: How many members do you have?

Clyde: This year I can't really say yet, but last year we had about 7,000 paid members. One thing in our roping that's a little different in our association is that, at some of our ropings, you don't have to join to use our numbering system.

In the Northwest, there are very few people who don't rope at an ACTRA roping at some time or another.

SWR: What is a typical ACTRA roping like?

Clyde: That's a really good question because there is no typical ACTRA roping. Our association covers the gamut. We have everything from $300-a-man truck ropings to the $8 Wednesday night jackpot. There is no typical or standard roping.

SWR: Explain your handicapping system and how it's different.

Clyde: A lot of handicapping systems are similar and the formula has become standard among the associations. The thing that's a little different from ours is that we're cowboy-run and locally operated and we get to see the ropers a lot more. We get to see them at the weekly ropings and the monthly ropings and we have the ability to adjust handicaps-whether it be to lower them or raise them-in a pretty timely fashion. That's what helps us and helps keep our organization to where when a person enters more than one or two times we can keep the playing field more even.

SWR: Describe your numbering system.

Clyde: It's a half-number system, starting at 1 and going through 8. We take into consideration age, skill and other criteria by an elected board of peers. One is a beginner and 8 is an NFR-caliber.

SWR: How many ropings are sanctioned throughout the course of the year by ACTRA?

Clyde: Approximately 4,200. That's a lot of ropings.

SWR: That is a lot of ropings. Your motto is "Where Families Come to Rope." Why is that your motto and how is that evident at your ropings?

Clyde: The heart of team roping and the sport of team roping has always been the youth coming up through the system and being helped on by the older generation and the older generation being honored in the back part of their career. We accentuate that really well because we are the weekly-type roping. A lot of our ropings are very affordable, so families can come to rope.

I was really proud watching the Wrangler NFR this year and seeing the people who had come through our organization. We had four ropers there who started out in ACTRA ropings. Matt Funk, Brady Minor, Bucky Campbell and Charly Crawford were all kids growing up in our association.

SWR: You ought to be proud. Northwest ropers are really starting to become a force.

Clyde: Yes they are. We weren't very competitive for a long time at the national level. Trying to break through that into that upper echelon took a while, but we are very proud of them. Their desire and their families are what gets them there, but we gave them a place to start and a place to learn and some of their families were ACTRA contractors.

To get back to "Where Families Come to Rope" we're concerned about our membership. We have a catastrophe fund at most of the chapters and at the national level. Last year we awarded somewhere around $20,000 through that to individuals. We can't give a lot of money at a time-it's usually between $1,000-$1,500-for the day worker cowboy, the horseshoer or the guy without insurance who has something happen and has to travel back and forth to the hospital every day and stuff like that. That's all completely funded by members' donation. Nothing comes out of the ropings to fund that.

Then we also have a scholarship fund at the chapter and national level. It makes you proud to read some of the scholarship forms and see how qualified some the youth who come through the team roping and rodeo world are. It's a tough deal to try to choose who to award. Again, it's funded through a charity roping at our national finals and member donations.

SWR: How would you describe the typical ACTRA roper?

Clyde: We're very family-oriented and we have something for everybody. A lot of our growth in the last couple of years has been in the higher-number ropings. For a long time, it was kind of viewed as an association for lower-classification ropers. I don't ever believe that was a complete fact, but now the top amateur ropers, circuit PRCA ropers and some of the top-15 types come to our ropings and our finals.

SWR: Sounds like your finals has a lot going on, what is it like?

Clyde: There is a lot going on. This year we'll award a minimum of $80,000 in added money, divided up amongst the number ropings. We run Tuesday through Sunday, (October 23-28 in Reno, Nev.). We had to change our format because we're getting so large and our ropings were lasting all day. We wanted to make it to where it was more fun for the roper, so it wasn't a marathon. There's every level of roping from the high-numbered guys to the beginner.

SWR: What is the format for the finals?

Clyde: We have a No. 10.5, an Open Roping, a Century Roping, a No. 8.5 roping, a No. 7 roping, a No. 5.5, a No. 4 and a No. 3. Then we have a scholarship and a directors roping. The No. 7 roping is our premier roping. It's a five-header and we give away trailers to the winners. Last year, over 700 teams entered that roping. We had about 1,500 contestants at the finals who enter multiple times. We did over 9,000 runs. Our 5.5 was our largest roping and it's right around 1,000 teams.

SWR: If someone wants to become a member or start a chapter, how do they go about that?

Clyde: Contacting me is the best way to go about it. Call (509) 586-9476 or visit us at www.actra.org. We've had a lot of inquiries from the Midwest, and we're working at our expansion, but we want to have a controlled expansion so we deliver a good product to the people who come in. Arizona and the Rocky Mountain Region (Utah and parts of Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming and Arizona) have just come in and they've been very successful there. In Utah, there's already a couple ropings every weekend.

SWR: That's got to be exciting to be growing that fast.

Clyde: We've always been pretty quiet and gone along and done our thing. We just had so much interest from the outside-people wanting to become a part of it and wanting to see how we did things-that we finally decided to work toward that and let other people have the opportunity to work with us. We didn't realize it would be as popular as it has been. It kind of snowballed on us.

SWR: I guess that means you know you've got a good product.

Clyde: Yeah, it's a good thing. One thing is we try to be pretty open. When you're successful, it's easy to just stay with what's been working. But we've tried to stay innovative. We've had a tried-and-true finals, but we try to be innovative enough to try to make it better all the time. Even though we are a board-run organization, which can be a challenge, we still try to be contemporary.

SWR: Well, looks like it's working, congratulations and thanks for the time.

Clyde: Thank you.