LA FIESTA DE LOS VAQUEROS

Greg Hansen: Parsons still gets a kick from rodeo, even after four decades

2010-02-24T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Parsons still gets a kick from rodeo, even after four decadesGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 24, 2010 12:00 am  • 

In a rodeo that has 689 contestants, 19 of them named Cody and others named Whip, Straws and Stormy, it's easy to overlook a guy on a horse wearing No. 474.

Tuesday, at the moment 11-time world champion Trevor Brazile was introduced at La Fiesta de los Vaqueros, No. 474 was in a long line of team ropers, 67 in all, waiting to get his shot.

It was all over in seven seconds.

Clay Parsons doesn't need to do the dust-and-mud, bulls-and-blood thing anymore. He's 48 now (looks 38), president of the Marana Stockyards and Livestock Auction, a father of four and a full-time rancher who is part of the most prominent rodeo clan in Southern Arizona history.

"I still do about 40 rodeos a year," he says. "It's about getting your heart pumping."

Rodeo is ordinarily a young man's game. Seven-time world all-around champion Ty Murray retired at 32. The great Jim Shoulders was done at 33. Garth Brooks sings about "the joy and the pain," but the pro rodeo circuit is more famous for the pain.

Not many of the 689 cowboys and cowgirls at the Tucson Rodeo will get out of the sport with their physical, mental and financial well-being intact. That's why it's refreshing to see Parsons take rodeo on his own terms.

"I put in four hard years, traveling everywhere, and I basically quit in 1992," he says. "I cared more about my kids than I cared about winning. Now I can really enjoy it."

Parsons' choice to put family over fame has flourished. His three daughters were basketball standouts at Marana High School: Haley plays now at Arizona State, Mallory is the assistant coach at defending national champion Central Arizona College, and Carly is in her senior year at the UA.

His 17-year-old son, Buck, appears destined to be next in the line of Parsons family rodeo stars, one that began its impressive run 40 years ago.

Clay's brother, Joe Parsons, is a five-time National Finals Rodeo calf roper whose son, Joseph Parsons, 25, is now one of the world's leading calf ropers, as is his uncle, Cutter Parsons.

The don't-let-rodeo-consume-you example set by Clay and Joe has had an effect.

"I'm planning to stay in rodeo until I'm 30, give or take a year or two," Joseph Parsons said Tuesday before heading to his Marana ranch to help entertain world champions such as Cody Ohl and Brazile. "Then I plan to go into the construction business with my family. But right now, I'm on the road full time. I'm giving it my best shot."

Southern Arizona has produced a handful of national rodeo champs over the years: Buck Sorrels, Joe Glenn, Mel Potter, Sherry Cervi, Del Haverty, Buddy Peak and Tom Rhodes, to name a few, but the Parsons have dominated the sport for almost four decades.

Clay Parsons, believe it or not, won his first rodeo of substance 36 years ago at the same place, the Tucson Rodeo Grounds, at which he competed Tuesday. In 1974, he won the Arizona Junior Rodeo and was presented with a $2,300 horse trailer.

The Parsons family rodeo lineage started innocently.

Clay and Joe's father, Charlie Parsons, quit school as a high school freshman in Carlsbad, N.M., and became an ironworker. He later bought a ranch to satisfy his passion for ranching.

"The ranch went broke," Clay says now. "So my dad followed the mines; we lived in Silver City, then San Manuel. I grew up in the Oracle and Winkelman area. We didn't have enough money for horses, not the kind Joe and I needed to compete in rodeo, but some of my father's friends helped us out financially. Joe really had a lot of talent. Then it really took off."

Clay's impact in Arizona became manifest last month in a special ceremony near Casa Grande. He was inducted into the Central Arizona College sports Hall of Fame; he was the fifth man so honored.

Those before him were NCAA championship softball coaches Mike Candrea of Arizona and Clint Myers of ASU, four-time Olympic distance runner George Young, an ex-UA All-American, and major-league All-Star catcher Tom Pagnozzi, who grew up in Tucson.

And then Clay Parsons.

No. 474 has more than made his mark.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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