Gerry Lisby is a supervisor for the Columbia Public Works Department in the Sanitary Sewer Maintenance section, at least during the week.
On the weekend, Lisby, of Ashland, is a cowboy, traveling to around 60 rodeos a year, competing in the team roping competition, usually with partner Brant Spurgin, of Eminence.
Lisby grew up in Texas and began team roping 21 years ago, before he was even out of high school. By 1989, the year he graduated, he was competing in the Texas circuit rodeos.
“My family was doing it, and I just started doing it,” said Lisby of team roping.
Lisby’s wife, Jeanette, also competes at rodeos in the breakaway roping event.
Team roping, rodeo’s only two-contestant event, consists of a header and a heeler. The steer is released and both ropers chase the steer.
The header ropes first, catching the steer in one of three possible ways: around the head and one horn, around the neck, or around both horns. The horns are wrapped to ensure the steer is unharmed.
After successfully roping the steer, the header turns left, leading the steer to where the heeler has a clear throw at the hind legs. The heeler must rope both legs. All of this can happen in just four or five seconds.
If only one leg is roped, a five-second penalty is added to the team’s time. If either of the ropers leave the gate early, before the steer has had the proper head start, a 10-second penalty is added to the time.
Breakaway roping, Jeanette Lisby’s event, starts much the same as the team roping. A calf is released and after the proper head start interval, the cowgirl chases. One end of the rope is used to rope the calf. The other is tied to the saddle horn with a light string. Once the calf is tied and rope tightens, the rope breaks away from the saddle horn, ending the event. It’s not uncommon for all of this to happen in just two seconds.
Gerry and Jeanette Lisby met in Texas. She was working on a horse farm next door to a friend of his. Jeanette Lisby had grown up in Ashland and Gerry Lisby said he had never “been up there before,” but that he was “looking for something different.” The couple moved to Ashland in 1995, where they have lived ever since.
Soon after his arrival, Gerry Lisby started roping in Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association and United Rodeo Association events across the Midwest.
The MRCA has an annual membership of around 600 cowboys and cowgirls from around the Midwest.
The URA is a bit larger. A non-profit organization established in 1962, the URA sanctions rodeo in Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska and Wisconsin.
The URA Championship Finals Rodeo is held in November each year, featuring the top 15 contestants in each of the standard rodeo events based on total points from the rest of the season.
At the 2006 URA Championship rodeo, Lisby and Spurgin won the team-roping. Scores were combined times of three runs. Lisby and Spurgin’s three six-second runs added up to 18.87 seconds. A tally of 22.25 seconds earned second place. Spurgin said their best time for a single run was an amazing 4.40 in Lincoln, Neb.
Lisby described the competition in the Midwest as “just as good (as Texas), just not as many people.”
Lisby, a heeler, and Spurgin, a header, met each other through rodeos. Both were in need of a partner around the same time.
“We just met going to some of these competitions,” Lisby said. “We liked each other and liked the way each other roped.”
Lisby and Spurgin have roped together for six years, though on Saturday at the Midway Expo Center Rodeo, Spurgin was unavailable and Lisby had to find a new header.
Lisby roped with C.W. Adams at the URA and MRCA co-sanctioned rodeo.
“He’s a good run,” said Lisby of Adams.
Lisby and Adams were in fourth place after the first night of competition, though Lisby said, “I didn’t do as good as I wanted.”
The two-day rodeo has team ropers compete on both Saturday and Sunday night. Sunday’s results haven’t been tallied yet, but Lisby and Adams probably didn’t finish in the top five overall.
“We don’t really expect to place,” Lisby said, “but we’ll take it if it happens.”
In most rodeos, like the Midway rodeo Saturday, competitors get one chance to prove themselves.
“You get one shot at it and that’s it,” Lisby said.
Lisby missed the second leg with his rope, adding the five-second penalty to the team’s seven-second time.
Spurgin, who has been roping for about 28 years, lives 150 miles away from Ashland in Eminence. Lisby said they practice together “some, but not as much as I’d like.”
The lack of practice together doesn’t seem to affect their performance.
“Him and I have won I don’t know how many championships,” Spurgin said. “In the last five years, we’ve won eight championships together, six or eight saddles, and probably a dozen belt buckles a piece.”
“If you can’t (practice together), as long as you’re practicing period, it helps,” Lisby said. Competing together on a regular basis helps too.
“Gerry and I, we go everywhere; a lot in Wisconsin and Michigan, only some in Missouri,” Spurgin said, though he didn’t want to travel the 150 miles to ride the amateur rodeo with Lisby on Saturday.
“He (Lisby) was mad at me because I didn’t go up there (to the Midway rodeo),” Spurgin said. Spurgin said he doesn’t miss many rodeos in the area, but he didn’t think the amateur rodeo was worth the three-hour trip. Lisby’s trip was only 12 miles.
Besides being a good roper, Spurgin said that Lisby is a great person as well.
“You’ll never meet a better guy than him to go around and travel with,” Spurgin said. “He never quits. He never gives up, always thinks of the best.”