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Berry, Nuce to enter rodeo Hall of Fame

The career of Virgil "Ace" Berry was winding down as Ted Nuce's gained momentum.

Berry, the combo team roper and bareback rider, and Nuce, the unstoppable bull rider, had a lot in common. Both started young in rodeo, both merged quality and longevity and, on July 11 in Colorado Springs, both will be inducted to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

One more thread between the two — their inductions were overdue.

"He (Nuce) did some incredible things in bull riding. He survived," Berry said.

"He (Berry) was a great one, a cowboy his whole life," Nuce said.

The valley's cowboy roots grow deeper into the ground with Berry, born in Oklahoma but a resident of the Oakdale-Escalon area since he was 5, and Nuce, the 1979 graduate of Manteca High and for many years an Oakdale-Escalon resident.

Nuce, 48, moved two years ago to Stephenville, Texas, where his life has jumped to a new level. He's the father of Wyatt (3) and Westyn (15 months), and he's found a new career as a short-term stock trader.

"No more risky than riding bulls," he said. "Keeps life exciting."

Longterm success and durability, while danger lurked in every bucking chute, framed Nuce's career. He was the 1985 world champion and a four-time runner-up, but arguably his greatest feat was qualifying for the National Finals Rodeo 14 straight years (1982 to '95), a record he shares with Wacey Cathey.

Nuce's tough losses came against some of the all-time greats — Tuff Hedeman in 1986, Lane Frost in 1987, Jim Sharp in '88 and Hedeman in '91.

"Looking back, I was glad Lane won," said Nuce, remembering that Frost died in Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1989. In fact, Nuce watched several of his peers die in the arena while he somehow escaped with a predictable list of broken bones and concussions.

He responded by throwing himself 100 percent into his discipline. Nuce learned the fundamentals from eight-time world champion Larry Mahan and the mental side from bull riding guru Gary Leffew.

"Fear would always be sitting there on your shoulder. I had to be able to control my emotions and rehearse everything before it happened," he said. "I could be bucked off, but I didn't think that way. I thought that every ride would be a winner."

Nuce, one of the most charismatic cowboys of his era, often tossed his hat skyward after a succesful ride. He retired in 1996 when those good feelings were gone.

"I rodeo'd so long and so hard until I had no passion. You can't ride bulls without passion," he said. "I've never really missed riding bulls since I retired. I gave that everything I had. Either you're all in or you have nothing to do with it. That's how I am."

Berry, 62, has discovered golf — a more tame hobby — in recent years. He's earned the slower pace. He turned pro at age 13 in 1960 and, in his first rodeo, took home $1,300 for winning a go-round in Salinas.

"I look at 13-year-olds today, and I can't even imagine doing that," he said.

Berry qualified for his first NFR in 1962, one month before his 16th birthday. The NFR became his signature event. He qualified for the season-ending rodeo 14 straight years in team roping (1962-75) and six years in bareback (1967, '69-73).

Phil Lyne and Berry are the only cowboys to win NFR average titles in a roughstock event and a timed event in the same year. Berry won the 1972 NFR team roping title with John Miller and the bareback riding with what was then a rodeo record 685 points. The Oakdale resident also won NFR average titles in team roping in '67 and bareback in '71.

Unlike today's cowboys who expend a lot of energy during the year to reach the NFR, Berry made just enough money to get there. Once there, however, he went to work. He would have taken home a truckload of cash at the modern-day NFR with its huge purses.

"I couldn't stand the traveling. I went to about 65 rodeos a year, never more than 75. I always loved coming home. The other guys would just out-travel each other to go to the NFR," Berry said. "Even though there wasn't a lot of money at the NFR, it was the World Series to me with all the best stock. That was my bread and butter and what I focused on."

Not winning a world title was his only regret — sort of.

"There were different eras," he said. "Today, I would have won four or five (world titles)."

Nuce and Berry will join Oakdale's Leo Camarillo, Harley May and Sonny Tureman and Turlock's Les Hirdes in the Hall of Fame.

Said Berry, "After all these years, it's nice to get final approval from your peers."

Bee sports writer Ron Agostini can be reached at ragostini@modbee.com or 578-2302.

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