By Jack King
Rodeoing runs in Tuf Cooper’s family.
His dad, Roy Cooper, has won eight world championships, including one all-around title. His brother-in-law, Trevor Brazil, won the world all-around title last year and is first in Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association this year in steer roping. His uncle, Stran Smith, has made it to the nationals “four or five times,” Tuf said. Even his grandfather, Dale “Tuffy” Cooper, for whom Tuf is named, still competes in team roping at age 77.
But, even if he comes with a sort of rodeo pedigree, the soon-to-be seventh grader is only one of hundreds of young men and women who participate in the sport year round.
Three hundred young people ages 8 to 19 are in town this week for the High Plains Junior Rodeo Finals at the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena, competing in events ranging from calf roping to calf touching, barrel racing, pole bending and saddle bronc riding.
It takes a lot of commitment, said Ronnie Brooks, president of the HPJRA, from both the kids and their parents, who may drive them to as many as 30 rodeo events a year, hauling horses and equipment and staying in trailers, motor homes or motels.
“We enjoy it,” Roy Cooper said Tuesday. “It’s doing something with your family. I enjoy taking them, just like my mom and dad took me at that age.”
Though the young cowboys and cowgirls make it look, literally, like horse play, even the roping events are grueling physical contests and the contestants are top notch athletes, Brooks said.
In the “double mugging” version of calf roping, a contestant has to rope a calf, then, with the help of an older person, “flank it,” that is get all four of the calf’s feet clear of the ground, and tie three legs. The calves weigh around 180 pounds and are running at up to 30 miles an hour, Brooks said.
Tuf, who at 13 weighs 107 pounds, said he practices 4 1/2 hours a day during the school year and more in the summer. He said he also lifts weights once a week and runs two miles twice a week.
“Running down and flanking a calf makes you breathe pretty hard. It’s like playing four downs of football,” he said.
Although third in all-around competition heading into this week, and first in three events — calf touching and two types of calf roping, breakaway and double mugging — Tuf said he wasn’t entirely satisfied with his performance Tuesday. He had a time of 2.5 seconds in the break away, but in double mugging he “messed it up pretty bad,” he said.
“I eased the rope at him, didn’t throw it hard enough. It was around his eyes and I fished it and he ran through it and I caught his back legs,” he said.
But, as always when he makes a mistake, Tuf said, he thought out what he’d done wrong afterward, then forged ahead. His dad, who is also his coach, tells him to “get up and get him down again,” he said.
“I think about that it’s not the first time I missed, or the last time, and I just thank Jesus for keeping me safe,” he added.
That’s another good thing about the junior rodeos, Roy Cooper said, “they’re learning to win and learning to lose.”