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Sunday, April 18, 2021

Staying upright: Justin Boots-ventures keep cowboys, cowgirls in the saddle, earning a living

At the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo, a cowboy or cowgirl or FFA/4-H calf wrangler can always find a friend – particularly in three Justin Boots-linked ventures delivering sports medicine, personal income crisis assistance, and calf scramble contests leading to college money:

Sports medicine: Whether they be “rodeo first-responders” – all volunteer doctors and physical therapists – on the Justin Sportsmedicine Team tending a sore muscle, bruised shoulder, torn ligament, broken bone, cracked spine vertebra, concussion – or otherwise amid the gamut of rodeo-generated injuries.

“They’ve basically kept my career alive,” said 10th-year professional bullfighter Dusty Tuckness, 29, who stopped by for some shoulder pain therapy in the Justin Sportsmedicine treatment room of Will Rogers Memorial Coliseum. In arenas, he and other pros serve as distractions for the bull, to give safety to a rodeo rider dismounted or thrown.

Crisis funds: Or folk with the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, providing financial help to pay the bills during rodeo injury-recovery downtime.

More than $7.5 million in such financial aid has been channeled to about 1,050 cowboys and cowgirls since the fund’s startup in 1990, said Randy Watson, chairman and chief executive for Justin Brands, corporate parent for Justin Boots and other western-wear companies.

“They’re not going to get paid if they’re not competing and winning,” said Watson. “There’s no way to buy the groceries, pay the rent, . . . They’re away from their families, their doctors. . . . ”

Calf Scramble: Or the many folk and businesses supporting the Fort Worth Stock Show & Rodeo Calf Scramble, boosting the college savings funds of young FFA and 4-H winners in the perennial rodeo performances. Underwriting sponsors are Justin Boot Co. and Texas Mutual Insurance Co.

Justin cowboy boots, with sales-driven contributions to all three, have been a part of the Stock Show & Rodeo since early in the last century. Top Justin business executive John Justin Jr. was personally involved starting in 1959; he died in 2001; at the time he was the Stock Show & Rodeo nonprofit corporation chairman and a leading supporter.

“He and his wife continue to do that to this day,” said Watson, a Justin employee since 1993, citing the Jane and John Justin Foundation for its donations.

After starting with $125 million-plus seed money in 2001, he said, the foundation’s donations have mounted to about the same sum — $125 million – going largely to TCU, Cook Children’s Hospital, the Justins’ church and the Stock Show & Rodeo. And, he said, the fund now has an estimated $150 million balance.

Those boot sales, however, provide Justin Brands’ contributions to the Justin Sportsmedicine Team, founded during the 1980 National Finals Rodeo in Oklahoma City. Justin Boot Co. enlisted as the first and only sponsor in 1981.

Annually, Justin Sportsmedicine’s local teams of volunteer doctors and therapists provide free medical treatment, therapy and related education services and evaluations for an average of 7,500 rodeo cowboys and cowgirls in more than 450 performances at 125 rodeos, Watson and his associates reported.

“We’re here to catch them when they fall,” said Dr. Tandy Freeman, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine specialist and Justin Sportsmedicine Team medical director. He’s also engaged in providing treatment, evaluation, education and referrals.

“If there’s any way the human body can be damaged, we’ve seen it,” Dr. Freeman said.

“We fall a lot,” said Tuckness, who credits Justin Sportsmedicine doctors and therapists for enabling him to work through 176 rodeo performances and counting and being able to win Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Bullfighter of the Year honors for six consecutive years.

He, other bullfighters and the “rodeo clowns” will work in the 36 rodeo performances during the 23-day Stock Show. Tuckness is a Sportsmedicine regular, getting his ankles taped and both knees fitted with braces before each performance.

“It’s not a matter of if they’re going to be hurt; it’s a matter of when,” Dr. Freeman said.

The Justin Sportsmedicine Team, adopting new medical, computer and online technologies quickly, provides quality services equal to those given to athletes in other major professional sports, Watson and Dr. Freeman said.

Justin the man saw that need because professional rodeo athletes have been independent contractors, and didn’t have access to medical care on par with pro football and other pro athletes, Watson said.

Also seeing a gap to fill with the Justin Cowboy Crisis Fund, Justin and pro rodeo cowboy Jim Shoulders hatched the idea in 1989 and founded the fund in 1990 to provide support income for injured cowboys and cowgirls in recovery, Watson said.

“100 percent of the dollars given to the fund (including interest) are given back in assistance,” he said, adding that the fund is one of the few charities not using donated money for administrative and operational overhead. Justin Brands and the PRCA underwrite all of those expenses, he said.

For the nearly 30-year-old Stock Show & Rodeo Calf Scramble, now each of 16 4-H and FFA youngsters compete during each rodeo performance to win one of eight $500 vouchers to purchase a heifer for a livestock show project.

Once the projects end, the purchased and shown animals, written project essays and related contest requirements typically bring college scholarship funds to the winners.

Contributions come from many individuals, corporations and other businesses, including Justin Boots, show and Justin Brands folk said.

“It’s rewarding,” Watson said.

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