By Kevin Wilson
CLOVIS — It was a quiet night at the Curry County Events Center, unlike the morning that preceded it and the nights that are about to follow. But some noise was worth tolerating.
“I figure you don’t want to turn off the air conditioning,” Todd Handley said, “so I’ll just use the mic.”
The family church service on Wednesday night, wrapping up the first day of the High Plains Junior Rodeo, was delivered by Handley about the power of noise and of silence to a crowd that included his son, Tyler Handley.
From small sermon to large competition, family comes through as an important element of the rodeo, which is wrapping up its 40th year this week at the events center.
Kevin Jolley, the manager for the events center, said Clovis and the center are no strangers to rodeo events, but HPJRA is different for many reasons. First, there’s the hometown pride. Every year, the rodeo season for participants ages 6-19 — lasting 14 weeks this year — ends in Clovis.
“It started here with five people from Clovis,” Jolley said from his office at the center, which took over hosting duties from the Curry County Mounted Patrol Arena when it first opened for business. “It’s a homegrown deal.”
The other differences lie in the parameters of the rodeo. Some professional rodeo events held at the center feature two or three 7 p.m. shows, and sometimes competitors are only in town long enough to compete. High Plains, on the other hand, goes from morning to evening some days, and on Wednesday featured an activities night for the kids and their parents.
“The biggest differences are that it’s five days long, and it’s all kids,” Jolley said. “It’s a family experience. We try to entertain them a little. Some of them have been here since Monday, and they’re going to be here the whole time.”
During that time, Todd Handley said, it’s easy for competitors to get intimidated and/or distracted by crowds and the sounds they don’t get in the practice pen at home.
Likewise, it’s easy for the parents to get distracted when the vehicle breaks down or a water pipe bursts at the house.
“That’s noise,” Handley said. “It keeps you from hearing the things you’re supposed to be hearing.”
He referenced the story of David and Goliath, and the Kevin Costner film, “For the Love of the Game.” After asking if anybody had seen the movie, and getting almost zero response, he talked about Costner’s character as a major league pitcher with the ability to block out everything when it was time to pitch. He said in that silence is where you remember the fundamentals you’re taught through your family and your religion.
“It’s only going to get noisier,” Handley said. “There’s always going to be more noise, more demands on your life in general.”
After he closed his 30-minute sermon, the kids disbanded for free time. Some parents looked at the silent auction items, which were a mix of home decor, gift certificates and rodeo supplies. The kids mostly found something to pass the time, like a game of football.
One of the football players was Tyler Handley, who admitted “For the Love of the Game” is a pretty good movie.
Turns out Tyler had a pretty good Wednesday, finishing first in the 13-to-15 year old calf roping. He just beat out Grady Kirkes of Carlsbad, who was also throwing around the football. Both noted that was a reason they liked the rodeo; fierce competitors one minute, football friends the next.
“We’re all friends,” said Kirkes, who is competing in three events. “The people are all good. It’s tough. It’s fun, but you’ve got to get better (to compete).”
Tyler Handley’s hoping Wednesday’s good run is a trend, as he hopes to add another win to the bull riding title he pulled off in 2012.
“The people are all family here,” he said. “They’re good ropers; they’re good people.”