Column: Rodeo goes beyond sport

Before the Fourth this week, it had been about 20 years since I had worn cowboy boots. I was a toddler and the boots were white snakeskin. I wore them as much as I could until I outgrew them. I’m guessing that style was cool then, it was the very early ‘90s. Good enough for a 5-year-old, one who had not yet realized he wanted to grow up to be Michael Jordan and needed to wear sneakers at all times.

This week I got a pair of American flag patterned Roper boots for Fourth festivities. You know, the kind with stars on the top of the foot and stripes up around the sides. The feeling that came with it was pretty excellent.

Welcome to Rodeo Week. Get your head right. I grew up here in Sheridan, and while I wasn’t raised on a ranch or in any type of rodeo family, that doesn’t mean I haven’t been to the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo just about every single year since I was little.

There’s little more exciting than a rodeo in Sheridan. If you’re a Sheridanite, that statement is an obvious one. So much so that I had a hard time finding an angle here for a rodeo column because I believe the sport is one of those things you can just soak in without saying much about, and it’s still perfect. True Western tradition. Christmas in the summertime for adults.

It begins in different ways for everyone, officially yesterday and today with a golf tournament — an easy example of how our welcoming Western culture blends so easily among all types.

Just look at Chris LeDoux, for whom the tournament is named. He played golf, once saying “I hate to admit it. I cussed the game for years. But it’s addicting. I don’t understand it. Maybe it’s just the nice parks you get to walk through.”
Now, I couldn’t even try to explain the game of golf in a cooler way than that.

One of the most memorable interviews I’ve ever conducted — in my adolescent journalistic career — was with Peggy LeDoux, Chris’ late wife. Back when I was still in school interning for the Press in 2010 during the Spurs and Spikes memorial tournament, I had the privilege of talking to her about why the tournament was moving to Sheridan and the Powder Horn in its fourth year.

I don’t know if it was true, but the person who helped me get a sit-down with her said that she doesn’t give interviews often, and I understood why. Her husband was a celebrity in a state relatively void of nationally-known individuals. And he was that for the right reasons.

“Chris liked playing at the Powder Horn a lot,” she told me quietly. Her answers were short, and the simple task of speaking about something even as simple as her husband’s affinity for golf was still a difficult one.

I couldn’t think of a much better guy to remember as a kick-off for Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo Week.

At an exhausting rate, I spend most of my time following the structured high school sports, so I welcome the opportunity to cover four nights of rodeo. There’s plenty to be said about the pageantry, the spectacle and the general weeklong heydey that makes the rodeo so alluring, but it’s the human element that I find particularly enthralling.

Its athletes are rockstars in the most honest sense. If a cowboy doesn’t make money at a rodeo, he’ll have trouble filling up his gas tank to get to the next one.
In my experience, they’re nice folks, too.

While it’s a bold absolute, I’d call rodeo cowboys one of the most non-ego-fueled athletes in professional sports. Hubris is likely scarce when faced with the unforgiving nature of a bull ride, no matter one’s skill level or acclaim. To me, an ego-less sport is the perfect playing field.

In my own overactive perhaps irrational imagination, that cowboy is easily reminiscent, this week a living history even, of the stereotype of the old West, guns strapped to their leg, silent and confident, only speaking to say something that they really meant, but deadly.

Course, anyone who has ever read a book knows that the guns were not strapped in a holster low on their leg, but instead set inside their belt. And it was rare that any two shooters stood directly across from each other while counting to 10, few times hitting perfectly on their first shot from the draw. “If you want to hit a man in the chest, aim for his groin.” — Bat Masterson.

Don’t take any of this too seriously, call it the elated observations of a Wyoming city-raised (yes, I just said that) amateur rodeo fan approaching the best time of the year. Every town has rodeos, but ours is better. Don’t argue.

As a spectator, rodeo is about as close as we get to that Old Western Hollywood setting, but in marathon viewing sport form. All you have to do is sit back and watch.
And anyone can wear boots for a week.

Happy Rodeo.

Brad Estes is the Sheridan Press sports editor. His column runs every Saturday.

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Brad Estes

Sheridan Press sports editor

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