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By Kent Lynch/Dally Times
Special To Ropers Sports News

SAN ANTONIO, TEXAS – Thirty-five years ago Ronald Reagan was the president of the United States and Al Pacino was popular on the big screen in Scarface. Hurricane Alicia hit the Texas coast causing billions of dollars in damage and dozens of deaths, while the Los Angeles Raiders reigned as Super Bowl Champions. The Baltimore Orioles were Major League Baseball Champions after claiming the “I-95 Series” over the Philadelphia Phillies four games to one and George Strait’s latest hits were Amarillo by Morning and You Look So Good in Love.

That’s also the year that Strait, along with his brother Buddy, hosted 137 teams at a Kingsville, Texas trailer roping. Strait, an avid team roper, saw an opportunity to host a roping for south Texas friends with a concert performance after. Jack and Jackie Stephenson won that first roping and since that day, 34 more teams have claimed the title of George Strait Team Roping Classic Champions.

The evolution of the event has included the progression from that first two-horse trailer to a pair of matching Chevy trucks and Bruton trailers and a payout exceeding a half million dollars for Saturday’s finals alone. The roping has become a bucket list item, a “must win”, if you will, for aspiring competitors and veterans of the sport alike. In 2000, the GSTRC made the move from Kingsville to it’s current home at the San Antonio Rose Palace.

The unique format of the Strait pits 500-600 teams against one another in two progressive rounds on Friday. Contestants put up $1,000 per team to compete for rotation money and ultimately the opportunity to make the top 50 and return on Saturday. Saturday features three full go rounds with cash paid to the fastest time in each. The big money, however, is awarded on the three head average, which has also evolved over the years to somewhat of a knife-fight...if you can’t be faster than about 16 or 17 seconds on three, you won’t win much. The 35th edition of the GSTRC was no exception. 

In a final round on Saturday that was just dirty fast, some of the quickest times of the weekend were recorded, including a 3.33 second run, turned in by Luke Brown and Jake Long, who were out of the average. After the teams with no times took their shots at the go round, it was time for those with a legitimate average chance to give it their best. At the tenth call-back position, Blake Hughes and Brady Norman roped a 5.61 to set the pace with a 17.33 on three head. Following a no time by the ninth team, Andrew Ward and Jace Crabb took the lead with a 17.27. Another lead change happened when the seventh high team of Pace Freed and Cody Pearson took over with a 17.08, then another as Jaguar Terrill and Cole Wilson roped a 5.63 for a 16.37.

With the top five teams left, the Minor brothers, Riley and Brady claimed the lead with 16.08, followed by the fourth team of Coleman Proctor and Billy Jack Saebens, who once again changed the leaderboard with a 15.86. Less than one second separated the top three teams at this year’s GSTRC and that’s when Aaron Tsinigine and Clay O’Brien Cooper, aka The Champ entered the arena.

Tsinigine, an Arizona cowboy, and Cooper sported a 10.06 on two head as the third high team and needed a 5.79 to take the average lead. Being the overachievers that they are, the 2015 World Champion header and seven-time World Champion heeler mowed down their steer in a blistering 4.41 seconds to take over with a 14.47. Two teams were left.

World Champions Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith were second high team and needed the exact same run they had just watched. They turned in a 4.45 to move to the second position with one team to go.

Dustin Egusquiza, the 2016 GSTRC Champion header and three-time GSTRC Champion Kory Koontz had the fastest time on two head from Friday’s qualifying rounds, an amazing 8.91. They also held the number one position in Saturday’s short round with a 9.14 on two head. A businessman’s run of 5.32 seconds would give them the championship, but a miss by Egusquiza took them out.

At the end of it all, Tsinigine and Cooper would hold on to win it all from the third call back position. The win included a new Chevy dually from Cavender Chevrolet in Boerne, Texas, a new Bruton trailer, spurs from Tommy D’s and $101,600 in cash to each roper.  This was Tsinigine’s first victory at the Strait but the veteran, Cooper, has now earned three titles. He won the roping in 1995 with Tee Woolman and again 10 years later in 2005 with Speed Williams.

As the arena was prepared for the traditional awards ceremony, the champions inspected their newfound loot. As I spoke to Cooper, who lives in Gardendale, Nevada, about the win, his phone rang and he was overheard talking about a driver for the new truck. “That was a guy from back home,” he chuckled, after hanging up. “A few years ago, he told me if I won that truck and trailer, he’d drive it home for me. I was just calling him out on it.” Sounds like Cooper’s rig had a way home.

Tsinigine also had the fastest time of the day on Friday with Ryan Motes. They picked up a pair of buckles for their 4.21. Egusquiza and Koontz also earned a pair of buckles for their fast time on two head from Friday. In addition, the pair won $3,000 for their 4.28 in round one on Saturday. John Alley and Brady Norman claimed the second round title and $3,000 with a 3.47. Brown and Long’s 3.33 gave them the cash and title for round three.

Brazile and Smith were crowned the reserve champions for their time of 14.50. They received a pair of saddles and a cash payout of $81,280, while Proctor and Saebens held on to third for $55,880.

For 35 years now the Strait family has produced this event for the love of the sport, providing a venue to offer life-changing money to team ropers on the road. If you ask any team roper about The Strait, all you hear is praise. 

In 2007, after celebrating the 25th year of the roping, Strait was quoted, “My goal is, and has always been to make the GSTRC the best roping out there. I won’t be satisfied until I know it is.” Just ask any of those 35 champion teams...they’ll tell you it’s definitely the best.

Results are as follows; payoffs are per team:

1st go: 1. Dustin Eg­u­s­­­­qui­za and Kory Koontz, 4.28, $3,000. 2nd go: 1. John Alley and Brady Norman, 3.47, $3,000. 3rd go: 1. Luke Brown and Jake Long, 3.33, $3,000.

Average: 1. Aaron Tsinigine and Clay O’Brien Cooper, 14.47, $203,200. 2. Trevor Brazile and Patrick Smith, 14.50, $81,280. 3. Coleman Proctor and Billie Jack Saebens, 15.86, $55,880. 4. Riley Minor and Brady Minor, 16.08, $50,800. 5. Jaguar Terrill and Cole Wilson, 16.37, $40,640. 6. Pace Freed and Cody Pearson, 17.08, $30,480. 7. Andrew Ward and Jace Crabb, 17.27, $25,400. 8. Blake Hughes and Brady Norman, 17.33, $20,320.

Trevor Brazile (r) and Patrick Smith (l) roped their three steers in a time of 14.50 seconds to win second in the average, $81,280 in cash and beautiful saddles. George Strait presents. – Dally Times Photo

Dustin Egusquiza (r) and Kory Koontz (l) had the fastest time on the qualifying round of two head of 8.91 seconds. Presenting is George Strait. – Dally Times Photo