SHERIDAN — The cowboys are the stars of the rodeo; the announcers are heard by all; the pick-up men, bullfighters, performers and flag girls are front and center. But the ones who help determine the winners are two women whom most never see and many don’t understand: the timers.

The job of a rodeo timer is grueling, with long hours and no breaks, intense focus and high stakes. But DeeDee Dickinson and Roberta Sankey, the longtime timers for the Sheridan WYO Rodeo, say they have a true passion for their jobs.

“I don’t think people realize the responsibility that we have; we’re the ones with the watches,” Dickinson said. “On a pay situation, you can’t make a living doing it, let’s put it that way, but we do it because we love it. People don’t understand we are there in that announcer’s stand for all runs, and once we start, we’re there. There’s no bathroom breaks or anything.”

Sankey Pro Rodeo has held the contract for the rodeo timer roles in Sheridan for 21 years, and each year Roberta Sankey and Dickinson have worked side-by-side run-after-run.

Rodeo Secretary Debi Davis said the timers are the most under appreciated positions in the rodeo — and she would know; she oversees them all.

“What I do is basically make sure everything runs smoothly from an office standpoint,” Davis said. “I ensure anyone involved in the rodeo — the board members, the volunteers, the sub contractors, etc. — have what they need. A lot of the public doesn’t know what the timers go through, but it is more so taken advantage of from a contestant standpoint. The timers are the ones who give away all the money so they have to be good at what they do and focus. They also have to have a thorough understanding of the rules; there’s a lot more involved than just starting and stopping your watch. It’s a tough job.”

Their long list of duties includes a lot more equipment than a watch and even more required knowledge and experience. They assist in the draw (assigning animals to cowboys), run a master board and update it throughout the day (keeping contestants abreast of what was done by those who ran before them), have to know all of the rules and judges signals and have to have a relentless focus from morning until night.

But Davis said Sheridan has the right women for the job, as “the two timers that have been hired by this committee are two of the best” and their resumes prove it.

Dickinson has been timing for 24 years and has timed for such prestigious rodeos as the National Westerns in Denver, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association tour of Omaha and Dallas and the nationals.

“I’ve timed the national finals twice and done our circuit finals multiple times and also the national steer roping finals,” Dickinson said. “That is the goal of every contestant is to get to nationals, and maybe some people don’t realize it is the same for contract personnel as well; that’s what we’re all trying to accomplish.”

Sankey has been timing since she was 17 growing up in Cody and working for the Cody Nights Rodeo as a summer job.

“The more you do it the more you are tuned into what’s going on behind the scenes and how it affects you,” Sankey said. “The nationals is kind of the end all goal, and I have done that, but as far as something I look forward to each year, it is Sheridan.”

Davis, Dickinson and Sankey are no strangers to a wide variety of rodeos and all three say Sheridan is one of the best.

“Sheridan is just such a good rodeo,” Sankey said. “It’s full of energy and color and they hold true to the values of the community as well as the West. They seem to capture that so well here. It’s what a rodeo should be.”

“It doesn’t matter big or small or medium, you have to be doing the same thing as a timer,” Dickinson added. “The Sheridan WYO Rodeo is one of my favorites. The committee is wonderful. They all say ‘Hi’ to you, they all know who you are and you feel appreciated. They treat you like family and it’s a great rodeo.”

Davis said since the timers are in the background and they do their jobs flawlessly and quietly, most of the time they do their jobs without the recognition that they deserve.

“It’s a passion and I take my job very seriously,” Dickinson said. “It’s a pressure situation, but I enjoy it. I’ve met some wonderful people and got some great friends out of it.”

Both timers agree, the people are why they do it; that and the front row seats.

“We have the best seat in the house and we see every run, everything that happens and a little bit more than what the crowd sees,” Dickinson said.

“It’s a lot of long hours but I love being part of the rodeo world there are just such great people in it,” Sankey added.