By Kevin Wilson
In a sense, Wendell Best traded one set of children for another.
Best, 70, recently retired from his post as the national director for the New Mexico High School Rodeo Association. He leaves behind 30 years of service to what he considers his extended family throughout high school rodeo.
“When I decided I was going to quit,” Best said, “one feller came to me and said, ‘I don’t know why you keep going. You don’t have any kids or grand kids in this.’
“I told him (that) at last count, I had about 300 of them, all over the state.”
Instead of helping high schoolers across the state, he now turns his attention to 12 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
“I just finally made up my mind after so long of a time,” Best said. “I had some grandsons and granddaughters that might need a little more of my help.”
Best’s retirement officially came following the National High School Finals Rodeo in Farmington.
A rancher who lives in Elida, Best has been the national director for the NMHSRA since 1988. That was following 15 years as a member of the rodeo board, dating back to 1973.
Best has been involved with rodeo since his childhood. There was no high school team when he was enrolled at Floyd High School, but he and his rodeo friends found amateur events at every opportunity.
“We always thought we were too busy to go to the pro shows,” Best said, “but we did rope with the amateurs.”
He participated in the first New Mexico High School Rodeo at Santa Rosa in 1949 and qualified for the first National High School Finals Rodeo at Halletsville, Texas.
He chose not to make the trip to Texas in 1949, but qualified again in 1950 when the national finals came to Santa Rosa. He won ribbon roping, an event no longer sanctioned by the NHSRA.
He was a large influence in bringing the NHSFR to Farmington, where it has been for the last two years. Best admitted that his retirement was somewhat delayed due to the rodeo’s two-year rotation in New Mexico.
One of Best’s habits is to refer to himself as “we,” in an attempt to not sound boastful when he is required to speak of himself. Bobby Grimes, the Portales Area High School Rodeo team coach, knows Best as that type of selfless person.
“He’s helped with calves and everything else in practice,” Grimes said. “He’s a really good man. He’s done all that stuff and done it for free for all of those years.”
Best’s personality has been a great asset in his position working with high schoolers, Grimes said.
“It’s helped him a lot,” Grimes said. “He’s really good with the kids. He’s got a really good rapport.”
New Mexico rodeoers made sure that Best went out with style, placing tops in girls competition and fourth overall. The rodeo attracts participants from 39 states, five Canadian provinces and Australia.
“That was a real good feeling and it’s an honor to do that,” Best said, “and if all of them had been up to their capabilities, they could have won the entire thing.
“But rodeo’s just like any other sport. Every once in a while, a fellow will miss one. But we were really proud of the kids.”