The 1962 WPRA barrel racing world champion, Sherry (Combs) Johnson will join the ProRodeo Hall of Fame ranks in the 2023 class.
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado – The Class of 2023 ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductees were announced on Monday, March 27 and will mark the 44th annual induction. A total of 11 will be inducted including two representatives from the Women’s Professional Rodeo Association (WPRA) on July 15.
The WPRA is celebrating 75 years in professional rodeo this year and both inductees from the WPRA have been instrumental in the foundation of the Association as well as advancing the sport for women.
Sherry (Combs) Johnson, the 1962 WPRA World Champion will be inducted into the WPRA Barrel Racing category, while Fay Ann Horton Leach will be inducted as a WPRA notable. Johnson and Leach will join the following on the PRCA side – Cody Wright (Saddle Bronc Riding), Luke Branquinho (Steer Wrestling), Doyle Gellerman (Team Roping), Butch Knowles (Notable), Tom Feller (Notable), Kenny Clabaugh (Contract Personnel), St. Paul Rodeo(Committee), Cowtown Rodeo Inc. (Committee) and Night Jacket #408 (Livestock) owned by J Bar J. Bryan McDonald will also be honored with the Ken Stemler Pioneer Award during the Cowboy Ball on July 14.
2023 ProRodeo Hall of Fame Inductee Sherry (Combs) Johnson
Sherry (Combs) Johnson will join the hallowed halls alongside her world champion horse Star Plaudit “Red,” who earned induction in 2017 the first year WPRA members were officially included and will also join her sister Florence Youree, who was inducted as part of the Class of 2019 in the notable category for the WPRA.
“I am in shock,” stated Johnson upon learning of her induction into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame. “I knew when Jimmie (Munroe) called me that she wasn’t fibbing, but it is still just so hard to grasp. It is such a blessing to be put in the Hall with my horse Red and my sister. It definitely brings my career around full circle.
“When I got my card and went to the first NFR in Clayton (N.M.), I would have never dreamt of this day and what the Association has become. It is just truly a great day.”
Johnson was born on August 16, 1938, in Duncan, Oklahoma, but has made her home in Addington, Oklahoma. During her career she qualified for 12 National Finals Rodeos, the first coming in 1959 at the first GRA (predecessor to the WPRA) Finals in Clayton, N.M. and the last in 1991 under the bright lights of Las Vegas, a span of four decades (1959-68, 1970, 1991).
She won her first WPRA world title in 1961 in the all-around category, but the highlight of her career would come in 1962 when she won the barrel racing world title aboard Star Plaudit “Red.” Star Plaudit holds a very unique record in the world of professional rodeo, one that is not likely to ever be duplicated. The bay gelding won two World Championships in the sport in a single year and contributed to a third, at the age of 12. Red carried his owner Johnson to the GRA World title in the barrel racing and close family friend Tom Nesmith to the RCA world title in the steer wrestling and helped the Oklahoman also claim the RCA All Around championship, all in 1962.
While Red is considered Johnson’s once-in-a-lifetime horse, she also trained six other horses that carried her to the NFR and an additional three that carried other competitors to the “super bowl” of rodeo.
The National High School Rodeo Association is also celebrating 75 years in 2023 and Johnson made her mark there as well winning the all-around title, barrel racing and breakaway roping titles in 1955.
Johnson gave back to the WPRA serving on the Board of Directors from 1963-1971, including a stint as the Vice President. She was named Coca-Cola Woman of the Year in 1997 and was inducted into the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City in 2005.
WPRA Notable Inductee Fay Ann Horton Leach
Fay Ann Horton Leach led the Girls Rodeo Association (GRA-now WPRA) as a founding member, competitor and board member. One of the 38 women who met in San Angelo, Texas, on February 28, 1948, to form the very first professional sports association created solely for women by women.
“This is quite an honor. I don’t know that I truly deserve it but know it is a big deal,” said Leach, who makes her home in Kilgore, Texas. “We worked very hard in the early years for the Association but never really got to reap the benefits but they are now. I am so thankful the girls now can expect to make some money as we were lucky to run at $20 day money.
“I love to see the progress the Association and the sport of rodeo has made.”
Although a founding member it would be a few years before she transitioned from the amateur ranks to the GRA after receiving encouragement from Wanda Bush, who was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 2017.
While Leach never won a world title in barrel racing she was always in the mix qualifying for nine consecutive NFRs (1959-1967). She would finish third in the world in 1962 behind Johnson and Bush.
Like many cowgirls during this era, they competed in many different events with calf roping being one of Leach’s favorites. In fact, she broke her mentor’s streak of six consecutive titles in calf roping when she beat Bush for the world title in 1957. She would add three more of those titles in 1959, 1963 and 1971. She won the all-around in 1960, the flag race world title in 1964 and one that might surprise everyone was her bull riding title in 1966.
In the mid-1960’s Leach was elected to the GRA Board of Directors and served stints as both the calf roping and barrel racing director. It was during this time when Florence Youree, WPRA’s first notable inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame, achieved her goal and the Board’s goal of getting the barrel racing as a standard event at the NFR.
In 1967, Fay Ann married Billy Leach, who competed in the RCA roping calves and steer wrestling. Together they would get into a new business of making ropes – Billy Leach Ropes. The Billy Leach Ropes business grew to where they were turning out 150 ropes a day and it was what brought an end to Fay Ann’s time on the road. After 20 years the couple sold the business.
In 2011, she was inducted into the Texas Rodeo Cowboy Hall of Fame under the category of Trailblazers and now she will be immortalized in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame for her dedication to building a strong foundation for the women in rodeo.
Full information on the PRCA inductees can be found at www.prorodeo.com.
The 2023 ProRodeo Hall of Fame Inductions are scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. MT on July 15 in Colorado Springs, Colorado.