Suttons on time at WNFR: Mother-daughter duo run the clock at the world’s biggest rodeo
Kim Sutton and her daughter Amy Sutton Muller are at the top of their profession.
The mother-daughter duo, part of the Sutton Rodeo Company of Onida, South Dakota, were selected to time at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in 2017.
It was Kim’s fifth time and Amy’s third to be selected for the honor. It is thought they are the first mother-daughter duo to time the WNFR in the same year.
Sutton was selected to time the WNFR in 1987, 2011, 2012, 2013, and this year. Muller timed the rodeo in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
The ladies, along with a third timer, Jayme Pemberton, are responsible for running the Daktronics scoreboard, starting the clock when the run or ride begins, and stopping it when the run is over (or the eight seconds is over.)
It's a big responsibility at the WNFR, with world championships on the line, and the women do not take their job lightly. Things move faster at the WNFR than at a regular season rodeo, Sutton said, with production times timed to the second and very little time between runs. "Everything moves so quickly," she said. PRCA timers are trained to watch, in the timed events, the flag at the box to the flag carried by the judge on horseback, starting their watch at the first flag and stopping it when the judge drops the flag. There is so little time between runs, that they have enough time to write the time down, clear the scoreboard digitally, and be ready for the next run.
"There's a lot of pressure," Sutton said. But they also realize that whether it's the WNFR or a summer rodeo in South Dakota, all rodeos are important. "You time the same," Muller said, "because every run, every dollar has equal importance. You see that at the end of the year, when people make (the WNFR) or break it by a few dollars."
There's more to the job than what fans see at the rodeo each night. They are required to be at the rodeo office two hours prior to start time to help with posting information and the draw. After the rodeo, they stay another hour, making copies of times, scores, and statistics needed by the media, announcers, television personnel, and chute bosses, and helping with the next day's draw.
The three timers take turns working the office every day. The rodeo secretaries (this year Sunni Deb Backstrom and assistant secretary Dollie Riddle) are in the office from about 8 till 11. Then a timer takes over, manning the office from 11 to about 12:30 pm. She is there to answer questions, proof daysheets, make copies, and relay messages.
During the rodeo, one of the timers wears the headset and communicates the contestant, their time and score, to the rodeo secretary, who relays it on to the media room. At the end of each event, the three women reconcile their sheets before they are sent to the secretary's office, making sure they have the correct times and scores.
There's no room for error, Sutton said. In 2011, during the team roping, a steer on the end of a rope in the team roping crashed into the front part of where the timers sit, severing a cord that went from the timing console to the scoreboard computer. The timers were working, but the data wasn't being received on the computer. The rodeo cannot stop; it's on live television, so the timers kept timing while screen operators scrambled to fix the cord. "We had guys diving under the table, changing cords, and we never quit timing," Sutton said.
When they do have time off, Sutton and Muller take care of business at home. Both women are involved in Sutton Rodeo, and even when they're in Las Vegas, work continues for upcoming Sutton rodeos in Rapid City and Grand Island, Nebraska.
They do take a little time to shop, however, hitting the trade shows in Las Vegas and helping out Santa with gifts. The trade shows are "one hundred percent of my Christmas shopping," Muller said.
The entire family goes to the WNFR, several of them with official jobs. Sutton's son Brent was assistant chute boss and son Brice flanked the Sutton animals that went to WNFR. Kim's husband Steve was in Las Vegas, taking care of business for the family's future rodeos, and Steve's parents, Jim and Julie, are the 2017 Donita Barnes Lifetime Achievement Award recipients.
Muller's husband Steven was also in town, with an official job, too – daddy daycare. The couple's younger child, a six month old daughter, Shally, was his responsibility while Muller worked. Their older child, a four-year-old son, Shaden, stayed with grandparents in South Dakota.
Sutton Rodeo has sent bucking horses and bulls to all WNFRs except one. This year, they had one bareback horse, two saddle broncs, and a bull selected to buck at the WNFR.
For Sutton and Muller, it's a real honor to be selected to work the WNFR. "This is our Super Bowl," Sutton said, "the top of our game for rodeo. We work together all year long. To get to do it in Las Vegas is a pretty neat experience."