story by Michele Toberer Anna Jae Griffin goes by AJae, and the Mississippi native has been a cowgirl for a lifetime, and a Southeastern Professional […]
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Meet The Member James Bearden
story by Lily Weinacht
James Bearden grew up in a Western environment showing horses and barrel racing, but it wasn’t until he was 14 that he found his passion in life – bull riding. And while the 55 year old from Anniston, Ala., retired from the event 15 years ago, he soon found another niche, this time as a rodeo judge for several associations, chief among them the SPRA.
“Growing up, some of the older guys I knew rode bulls and rodeoed, and at one of the rodeos I was watching, one of the bull riders didn’t get on his bull. My friends asked me if I wanted to do it, and from that day on, I craved it!” James remembers. “I rode bareback horses a little bit, but I did bulls for 24 years, mostly with the PCA, ACA, and Lone Star Rodeo Company. Preston Fowlkes from Lone Star Rodeo Company was tough on me at the start, but he was always there for me. In 1979, I went to Jerry Beagley’s bull riding school, and he taught me a whole lot about riding.” When he was 34, however, James broke his arm at a rodeo, which proved the beginning of the end of his competition days. “Your heart tells you that you want to keep riding, but your body says you can’t,” says James, who also likes to say that the only rope his hand will fit in is a bull rope.
Following his injury in the early ‘90s, James was asked by Preston to come judge several Lone Star rodeos. He soon added ACA rodeos to his résumé, and has been the judge commissioner for the association for the last eight years. “I enjoy judging,” says James. “It keeps me involved in the sport, and especially when rodeo is in my blood, I wouldn’t have it any other way! I have two daughters, Lacey and Cristi, that barrel race, and my step sons, Trey Moore, and Cole Moore, ride broncs and bulls, so it’s a family sport for us.”
James and his wife, Lisa, became even more involved when the SPRA asked them to help work their rodeos when they first formed the association four years ago. Lisa secretaries many of the SPRA rodeos, including the finals for the last three years, while James judges nearly all of the SPRA rodeos, as well as their finals every year. “Rodeo is a large family, and I enjoy helping all the young guys coming along. My wife and I are like the parents of the rodeo, and we really enjoy helping people out,” James explains.
During the week, James works for Honeywell Aerospace in the quality department, where he inspects the moving internal parts of airplanes for stress cracks or other damage. James has been working for the company for 28 years and was recently promoted as the NDT Level III site leader of the Tulsa, Okla., facility. “We’re pretty laid back – there’s no getting in a hurry and making a mistake, especially when we measure everything in parts per million.”
When they have a weekend that’s not dedicated to rodeos, James and Lisa stay in their house on the river outside of Anniston and go fishing, while hunting occupies much of their time in the winter. Playing with their two grandsons, Evan (10), and Jace (1), also gives them great pleasure.
James anticipates retiring from his aircraft work in the near future, and then he and Lisa plan to get their IPRA cards and judge rodeos around the country. “But we’ll never quit the SPRA,” says James. “They’re the young, up-and-coming association in the region. They’re like family to us, and they put the contestants first. We’ll always be involved in the SPRA.”