HELENA -- After 30 years, Jay Sherley is resigning from the Lewis and Clark County volunteer rodeo committee.
Ever since 1989, Sherley has been involved in arena activities at the Last Chance Stampede -- mostly directing the Kiddie Parade and the Wild Cow Milking Contest, and for all 30 years, the Stick Horse Rodeo.
But Saturday night was his last hurrah.
“I belong to four boards, and it’s time to let some of the young blood in,” Sherley said.
Although he will continue running the Stick Horses.
“Jay Sherley has been doing this for 30 years and is an integral part of our great rodeo committee,” said Lewis & Clark County Fairgrounds manager Kevin Tenney. “He’s also a great guy and somebody I’d call a friend.
“He will be missed, but hopefully he might get to enjoy watching a rodeo for once, instead of working them.”
Raised in ‘Rodeo Capital of the World’
Sherley grew up in Cody, Wyoming, where he played football and baseball, wrestled and rodeoed. He then competed in the Northern Rodeo Association, where he became friends with Montana greats like Dan Mortensen, Deb Greenough and Scott Breding.
“Cody is the ‘Rodeo Capital of the World,’ because there’s a rodeo there every week in the summer,” said Sherley, who rode mostly bareback broncs, but also climbed on a bull occasionally.
Thirty-one years ago, as an employee of Corral West Ranchwear, Sherley, his wife Anita and his oldest son Devon moved to Helena.
“In 1989, I brought my 2-year old son Devon to the Stampede to ride sheep – back when they still let the really young ones ride – and I was asked to volunteer judging the Mutton Busters and kids’ steer riding,” related Sherley, who competed in the LCS rodeo’s barebacks his first three years here, as well. “I also helped run the sheep and steer riding, and worked the chutes. The very next year I joined the arena help as a board member.
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“Neil Horne was the chairman and asked me to be on the board, and I took over the Stick Horses, the kiddie parade, wild cow milking and worked behind the chutes.”
He also helped out when they contested the now defunct Hide Race, and motorcycles against horses in barrel racing.
Among Sherley’s funniest memories was the thought of future PRCA Hall of Famer Dan Mortensen riding Slack at the LCS when he first started out.
“We had so many saddle bronc riders back then, in the old arena, plus it gave him time to get here from Cheyenne,” Sherley said with a laugh.
Both of Jay’s sons, Devon and Colton, started riding at the age of 2, and each garnered wins on the sheep and steers. Later on, they collaborated on 16 wild cow milking contest championships.
And all three children have helped keep Dad’s rodeo duties organized. Devon still helps load the sheep and steers, while daughter Cassi is in charge of the sign-ins.
“When Cassi was gone for five years on mission trip, she came home and surprised me in the arena with the sheep, instead of write-ups and running the clipboard,” Sherley recounted. “I turned and looked, and bam! It was my daughter with a big old smile, ‘Hi daddy!’ It was a huge surprise.”
He related that if not for his kids Cassi, Devon and Colton, he was going to “hang my hat up” several years ago.
“But they’ve helped me for so long, and I’ve enjoyed it for so long,” Sherley said. “It’s been a lifelong adventure for the whole family, and everyone has been awesome.
“But I’m not going to lie, I shed a few tears Saturday night when the curtain came down,” he admitted.