Family real success for parish native
MONTEREY — Morris Miller Willson doesn’t base his legacy in calf roping on all the accomplishments he earned in the 25 years of traveling the country and winning numerous tournaments.
It’s the family of ropers carrying on the Willson name synonymous in Concordia Parish with calf roping that helps validate his rodeo career.
The Monterey native grew up around horses and cattle on his family’s land, but back then, Willson said roping wasn’t widespread.
“There were a few people in Jonesville who roped and some in Natchez, but it just wasn’t something many people did,” Willson, 72, said. “I rode horses all my life, but then one fellow came around the area who turned out to be a professional rodeo man, and we got to be friends.”
Jess Goodspeed of Wetumpka, Okla., was a Rodeo Cowboys Association qualifier and had won the American Quarter Horse Association Roper of the Year award several times. He began teaching Willson a thing or two about roping.
“He showed me everything I know about roping,” Willson said. “It’s because of him that I reckon I got to be so successful.”
Willson quickly saw success in his first few competitions and was soon traveling across the country to compete against top ropers in the country.
The Monterey boy who farmed beans, corn and cotton, however, never disappeared.
“It was always more of a hobby for me than anything because I wasn’t trying to make a living off it,” Willson said. “It was just something I liked to do, and I told myself if I was going to be competing against all the people, I might as well do it right and win.”
A majority of the credit, Willson said, goes to his horses, the majority of which he would train himself.
“I’d say 70 percent of you winning is on the horse,” Willson said. “I think the reason I’ve been successful is because I never rushed my horses.
“I took time, patience and made sure they were trained right.”
Willson said one of his most memorable moments was winning the Roland Stacy Memorial Calf Roping award.
In that annual tournament, the winner kept the trophy for one year and it took a rider winning it three times to retire the trophy.
Goodspeed, who had then become Willson’s close friend, won the trophy the first time in 1974.
But it was Willson who was able to retire the trophy by winning it in 1980, 1982 and 1983.
The large trophy, which has every rider’s name who won the award engraved on it, is proudly displayed in the Willson family home in Monterey.
But none of Willson’s trophies or accomplishments means more to him than what the future Willson ropers have done and have yet to accomplish.
Willson’s son, Robin, achieved success in the rodeo world and eventually landed a rodeo scholarship to McNeese University.
Robin’s oldest son, Hayden, and daughter, Ashlee, have both won state championships in the Louisiana High School Rodeo Association.
Ashlee, a senior at Monterey High School, plans on attending Northeast Texas Community College on a rodeo scholarship and said growing up under the rodeo expertise of the Willson family has been a great asset for her.
“It’s kind of hit me more lately than when I was younger, when you go to these tournaments and realize how many people look up to my Pawpaw,” Ashlee said. “He’s my biggest supporter.”
Robin’s youngest son and Ashlee’s little brother, Colten, is next in line to win a state championship and possibly more, Willson said.
“He’s going to do great things,” Willson said. “I’m just so proud of all of them.”
Knowing his children, grandchildren and, hopefully soon, his three great-grandchildren are carrying on the Willson tradition of roping quickly brings a smile to Willson’s face.
“I’m too old to rope now, but I still get out there and help the grandkids anytime I can,” Willson said. “I’m just really lucky because I’ve gotten to do what I like all my life.”