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A Profile of Fred Whitfield

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A Profile of Fred Whitfield

Fred Whitfield makes a successful catch at the 2006 San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Photo © Lisa Krantz/Associated Press
Fred Whitfield is one of the most recognizable faces in the sport of professional rodeo. In addition to being one of the winningest cowboys in sport, he is also one of the only prominent African American competitors. Fred's love of rodeo blossomed at a young age, and the passion still rages through his veins today.

Start Young

Fred Whitfield was born on August 5, 1967, in the great city of Houston, Texas. His mother worked as a housekeeper for the Moffitt family of Cypress, Texas. The Moffitt family owned a rodeo and roping arena, and young Fred was drawn to tie-down roping (known then as calf roping) like a moth to a flame. Fred later remarked about his obsession with roping, "It got in my blood. All I ever wanted to do was rope calves. I have a craving for it, like smoking." And rope he did. He would climb aboard his first mount, a Shetland pony, and rope various animals at the arena with an old extension cord. His own mother was often subject to his roping prowess, once telling the Houston Chronicle, "If I was in the kitchen cooking, I'd look around and he'd done throwed a rope around my neck, sometimes around my leg." Fred continued to hone his skills, competing in peewee rodeos at the age of nine, although this was derailed when his parents divorced. Fred disliked the situation with his mother, and bounced between various family members, until he eventually landed in the care of Roy Moffitt. Moffitt brought Whitfield along as he competed in rodeos across the country, paying the boy's entry fees until he was winning enough to cover his own costs. In 1983, Whitfield personally observed roping great Roy Cooper make a 9.1 second run at a rodeo in nearby Giddings, and Fred himself also made a 9.1 second run. Cooper was so impressed that he invited Whitfield to his home to practice for a few days, and the two become close friends and traveling partners.

Onto the Pros

Whitfield joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association in 1989, with the blessing and financial support of Roy Moffitt. Without his help, Fred would not have been able to afford the vehicles or horses, let alone the entry fees, to compete in nearly 40 rodeos across the country. 1990 was a spectacular year for Whitfield, who won the calf roping title at Cheyenne Frontier Days. He also qualified for his first National Finals Rodeo and was named the Resistol Rookie of the Year. Riding high on his successes, he quit his job with Moffitt Oil Company to concentrate on honing his skills. At the peak of his training, Fred would rope calves for upwards of 11 hours a day. His hard work paid off, and he was named the World Champion calf roper in 1991. This was a historical feat, placing Whitfield as the first-ever African American to win a world title in the calf roping event. Fred would go on to win six more gold buckles in calf roping, and was also named the 1999 All-Around World Champion, which made him the first African American in the history of the PRCA to do so. Whitfield's success continues to this day, winning at rodeos across the country.

Outside the Arena

So, what does a cowboy with such an extensive win record do when he's not competing? Fred trains horses and teaches aspiring ropers how to succeed in the arena. He enjoys spending time with his wife Cassie, who is a Pilates instructor, and his two daughters Savannah and Sydney. Fred left the arena for a brief stint in 2007 to have surgery to remove bone spurs from his neck and fix an injured rotator cuff. Fred's passion for competition draws him back to the arena time and again, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

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