Bull Rider Jack Bass Lands In Louisiana Cowboy Hall Of Fame

ALEXANDRIA, la. (AP) — Life has been quite a ride for Jack Bass of Alexandria ever since he rode his first bull as a high school student.

The former bull rider whose rodeo career spans over 40 years is one of five being inducted into the Cowboy Hall of Fame Nov. 5 at the Hirsch Memorial Coliseum in Shreveport.

How he got into rodeo is a story in itself, he said.

“Baseball was everything for me, ever since I was 9 years old,” he said.

Originally from Shreveport, he played baseball at Woodlawn High School. Bass played some football but decided to forgo it his senior year. All of his buddies played sports, and he liked the brotherhood he found with his teammates.

He didn’t think anything could pull him away from baseball. That is until one day, he decided to visit with a couple of cowboys at school who used to hang out at the flagpole and got to know them.

One day, they told him about an upcoming high school rodeo in Springhill and that he should compete in bull riding.

“‘Bull riding?’ I said. ‘I don’t know if I want to do that,’” he told them. “So they give me the ol’ chicken scene, you know, ‘Bawk! Bawk! Bawk!’ And so I said, ‘All right, put me in it.’”

It was at that high school rodeo in Springhill where he rode his first bull and the sport got ahold of him.

He competed in two more high school rodeos and placed second.

“My life brother John Woodson, he’s the one who egged me on to this,” he said.

Along with the rush of riding the bull and winning, Bass said he found the same type of brotherhood in rodeo that he had in baseball and football.

Bass enrolled at Louisiana State University for six weeks and left before midterms because he knew he wasn’t going to pass them. He returned to Shreveport to give baseball one more shot. He was invited to try out for the Shreveport Captains, who were called the Braves, at the time. They needed players.

For two weeks, Bass worked out with them thinking he was doing pretty well, but, unfortunately, the coach said he wasn’t going to play any games because he wasn’t big enough. He was a catcher who was 5’7 and 160 pounds. Runners rounding third would run right over him, the coach told him. But the coach had a job for him in the bullpen.

The next morning, when he showed up at practice, he decided he was going to ride bulls instead.

Bass needed money for entry fees, so he apprenticed for horseshoer Jack Mixon, who paid him $5 a horse. Once he had earned enough for his entry fee, he’d leave but then return to make more money.

Back then, Bass said, country star Loretta Lynn owned part of a company that would travel all over the U.S. holding seven-day rodeos. Lynn or her sister, Crystal Gayle, would perform at the rodeos.

“I ended up going on the road with a friend of mine. He was my mentor. He was a steer wrestler. And I didn’t have any money. All these pro fees are expensive. They were about $35 back in 1969,” Bass said.

For him, that was a lot of money. So he did the math and figured out he needed to work on seven horses for Mixon to pay the entry fee.

During that time, a friend of his took him to steer-wrestling practice, where he met four other guys who were going to pro rodeos. They invited him to go along. The first of these pro rodeos he went to was in Roanoke, Virginia.

“When I got up there to Roanoke, at the Loretta Lynn Rodeo, the first performance, they put me on what they call the labor list,” Bass said. “And the labor list then was working for the stock contractor that furnished the stock for the rodeo.”

It paid $7 per performance.

“After the rodeo, then I’d have to feed all the stock – bulls, horses, steers, calves – and all for my $7,” he said. “So Sunday afternoon was the final performance of the rodeo at 2 p.m., and that’s when I would get up. That’s when they would put me up in the rodeo."

He worked seven performances for $49 and the entry fee for the rodeo was $50. All his money went to entry fees. The rest of the time, his friends helped him financially.

Bass worked on four of the rodeos and quickly learned the bulls on the professional level were a whole lot tougher than ones he was used to. He drew a bull no one ever rode three times.

“If you blinked real fast, you could possibly see me on the bull. But if you blinked slowly, you’d see me on the ground,” Bass said. “All week I worked to get on this bull that nobody else has rode.”

But each time, he said, he was able to stay on a little longer.

“I got the bug pretty hard and I moved to South Oklahoma. I went to a lot of pro rodeos. For two years, I hit it really hard,” Bass said.

In his second year, he suffered major injuries in Naples, Texas. His eye socket had to be repaired and his jaw was wired shut. His left cheekbone is plastic.

“I was jerked down and smashed my face in,” he said. “Back then we didn’t have any protection. You’re just cowboying. That’s all you had. We butted heads, me and this bull – I thought I outrode him. Back when they picked me up, I said, ‘What was my score?’ They said, ‘No, your face is smashed in.’ So I ended up getting in Shreveport and a doctor put me back together. My whole right side of my face is plastic. I had a lot of injuries but I’d just heal up and go again until I didn’t.”

The last bull he rode was in 1977 in Eunice.

“I rode him but when I was getting off, I broke my shinbone,” said Bass.

“I went from ’68 to ’77. That’s how long I did it,” he said about bull riding.

It was during one of the times he was injured that he got into judging. He had a broken ankle and was on crutches but he went to the rodeo to watch his friends and cheer them on.

“I’m sitting on the tailgate somewhere around Delhi. And here comes Sonny Lewis,” Bass said. Lewis was a stock contractor from Alexandria looking for a judge.

“I didn’t think nothing about it. Dale Coleman, kind of my mentor, he just said, ‘Well, Jack can judge it.’ So Sonny said, ‘OK.’ Nineteen years old, I hobble out there in the arena with crutches on and started my judging career,” Bass said. “So I ended up judging rodeos after I quit riding until 2001. I did that for high school and semi-pro and all that.”

His two daughters were involved in high school rodeo, and he quit to concentrate on their careers. After his youngest graduated, he ended up judging high school rodeos.

“That was my preference – to help kids,” Bass said.

He ended up being a fixture at high school rodeos and served on the board.

“There’s been a lot of kids, well they’re men now, behind me, bull riders especially, that are in the Hall of Fame from Alexandria – several,” he said. “I want to think I had a little something to do with helping them. I definitely promoted them.”

Before him, there weren’t many in the state back in 1968, he said.

“In the late ’60s, early ’70s, we were plowing new ground for everybody,” Bass said. “But I wouldn’t have believed the sport got to where it is now. There was no TV. There was nothing. There was no press at all about it then.”

In his spare time, he enjoys working in his barn and with his horses. He and his wife, Mary Beth, also attend water exercise classes at the Louisiana Athletic Club in Pineville that have helped with the arthritis he’s gotten from his injuries.

Bass said it is a real honor for him to be inducted into the Hall of Fame because of how he got started in the sport that he put over 40 years of his life into. It’s also an honor because there are others who he wanted to be in there with who helped him get started.

“Out of the 175 names they already have in the Hall of Fame, I know 155 of them,” Bass said. “That tells you how far I go back. It is truly an honor for me. I’m about speechless on that.”