She may be the first Black pro rodeo rider and she’s from San Antonio

First Black woman on the Pro Rodeo Circuit remembers her wild ride

She may be the first Black pro rodeo rider and she’s from San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO – In these final days of the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, cowboys and cowgirls of many nationalities, races and genders are wrapping up their performances and getting ready to head to the Houston Rodeo.

That grind is what former pro rodeo barrel racer Betty Jo Williams, of San Antonio, remembers from her days partnering up with World Champion Sherry Mell.

“I got her in the Women’s Pro Rodeo Association and she started going to the all-girl rodeos with me,” Mell said of the 1980′s.

Mell provided the highly-trained horses and Williams provided the seat in the saddle.

“She competed right there beside me. She wasn’t just there as a sidekick. She was competing,” said Mell.

Williams for her part says she was there whenever Mell started her next trip.

“She never gave up on me. She was always offering that horse, anything, everything. She’d say, ‘Just come. It’ll do it for you,’” remembered Williams.

The two went through thick and thin together, but know the real challenge was when Williams was being singled out as the only Black person at the rodeo. She broke the barrier, with Mell’s support.

Mell, who was becoming the sort of rodeo legend that would earn a place in the Cowgirls Hall of Fame, remembers those moments.

“She kind of got a little timid and say, ‘You know, I’m the only black one here. And I said, ‘Well, it’s OK, you’re here. You’re here doing the same thing everybody else is doing, you know,’” said Mell.

Williams was just 12-years-old when she was suddenly put to work on a horse by her uncle working cattle.

“He told me, ‘just hold on here, do the work.’ And that’s all I did was sit there and every time a calf we go by, she was after it,” she said.

A chance meeting years later with a broken-down truck and trailer is how she met Mell, who stopped to help on the side of the road. That friendship forged over a busted tire has lasted more than forty years.

Today Williams is 68-years-old and recovering from back surgery, so she does not ride as much. She can still do a barrel pattern, albeit a bit slower these days.

She instead volunteers for Mell’s Special Olympics Rodeo and R.O.P.E.R. (Riding Opportunities Promoting Exceptional Riders), which gives those with special needs the opportunity to be the best cowgirl and cowboy they can.

The San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo served as the backdrop for the 28th annual event on Wednesday. For more information, on the inclusive riding program contact www.freewebs.com/roperapp or roperapp@yahoo.com.

As for Sherry Mell, she is still active on the rodeo circuit at 64 and still winning. You can catch her from time to time competing at Tejas Rodeo on Saturday nights.

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About the Author:

Ursula Pari has been a staple of television news in Texas at KSAT 12 News since 1996 and a veteran of broadcast journalism for more than 30 years.