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Tulsa World

Fighting ban halts seasonal events
200-11-10

Tim Palmer, a Kingston gamefowl breeder, shows off his tattoo of a fighting rooster while sitting at the farm of his father, Victor Palmer. Oklahomans voted to ban the sport Tuesday.

Some are bemoaning the economic impact now that cockfighting is illegal.

KINGSTON -- The gates to the Texoma Game Club remained locked Saturday, leaving some townspeople wondering what the loss of cockfighting would do to the small rural community.

Oklahoma's cockfighting season was supposed to kick off this weekend with a derby at the Texoma Game Club, but the blood sport became illegal in the state as of 5 p.m. Friday when the State Election Board certified the vote on State Question 687. Oklahomans approved the measure to ban cockfighting with 56 percent of Tuesday's vote.

James Tally, president of the Oklahoma Gamefowl Breeders Association, said no cockfights took place in the state on Saturday.

"If they did, it wasn't with my permission," Tally said. "I hope there will be (cockfights) in the weeks to come, but none happened today."

Nestled near Lake Texoma in the south-central part of the state, Kingston has a population of about 1,400.

The recent ban on cockfighting will have a negative economic impact on the Marshall County bedroom community and saddens many gamefowl breeders, according to Kingston residents.

Tim Palmer said the cockfighting ban puts a stop to a way of life for his family. Palmer, a Kingston resident, said he and his father, Victor Palmer, raised and fought roosters for the past two decades.

To commemorate his hobby, Palmer sports a rooster tattoo on his left arm.

His father sold most of the family's roosters in October, in anticipation of the ban.

Now, their 20-acre farm is strewn with rows of empty half barrels that once housed roosters. There are a few remaining young roosters on the mostly deserted farm.

Palmer said his 12-year-old son, Jacky Lee, spent many weekends helping him at cockfighting derbies.

"It is a hobby that my kids won't get to do," he said. "It hurts me that Jacky Lee can't be a cockfighter."

For others, the cockfighting ban is less about a lifestyle and more about business.

Many residents reap economic rewards during the summer as thousands of people flock to the community and enjoy water sports and fishing tournaments at nearby Texoma, but residents say business slows down as the weather turns colder.

"In the winter there are no tourists, and the cockfighting matches made up for that," said Bill Savage, manager of the Kingston Ace Hardware and Auto Supply.

Thousands of people flocked to Kingston from November through June to participate and watch the cockfights, and without those visitors his business will begin to decline, Savage said.

"Hotels, motels and restaraunts that used to buy supplies from here will stop," he said.

"This will definitely be an economic punch to us down here," Savage said. "Cockfights brought a lot of people and a lot of money here."

As soon as Joy Strafford heard about the ban, she said she had to start making phone calls. Strafford, the owner of J&J Kick'n Country, a small Kingston bar and dance hall, said she planned on hosting a party during the weekend of the yearly Christmas Cockfighting Derby in mid-December. When the cockfighting ban was passed, Strafford rushed to cancel the derby.

"Cockfighting would bring in a lot of out-of-towners -- people from Mexico, Hawaii . . . people from all over would come," Strafford said.

Another local business owner, Denny Eakle said he is not sure how he is going to fill his Kingston motel this winter. Eakle and his wife, Jan, own Bob's Lake Country Motel.

"The chicken fights brought a lot of people into this area," Eakle said. "It was mostly the spectators that stayed with us."

They used to come and stay and spend their money, he said.

"I used to have to turn people away, and they would stay as far as Durant for these fights," Eakle said. "All they did with this election was take another industry out of Oklahoma."

A district judge in southeastern Oklahoma issued a restraining order Friday, blocking enforcement of the ban in a three-county area.

The temporary restraining order was issued by Judge Willard Driesel of Idabel and applies only to the counties -- McCurtain, Choctaw and Pushmataha -- in his jurisdiction.

Oklahoma Gamefowl Breeders Association's Tally said the restraining order could not save Saturday's planned cockfighting derby in Marshall County because the Texoma Game Club was outside the judge's jurisdiction.