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Columbia Missourian

Sports reporter finds a whole new world in rodeo

By Tom Warhover
June 20, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Dear Reader:

It’s high school rodeo finals weekend. I don’t make it to other high school sport finals that come to town, but I’ll wander to the Boone County Fairgrounds to watch again.


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Like most other sports, these kids made it to the top from a combination of skill, determination and courage.

Unlike others, they did it on their own or through the help of family and friends. You won’t find an official team coach at Hickman or Rock Bridge high schools or any other school, at least that I know of, in the state.

No high school team saddles, horses, ropes or riggin’s.

At least that’s the way it was a lifetime ago, when I went to the state finals in bareback bronc riding. (The rider has a slim handhold rig rather than a saddle. Thus the horse — not the rider — is bareback.)

Rodeo is a different world.

Enter Missourian sports reporter Brian Nordli. It’s safe to say that Brian is no cowboy. He grew up in suburban Chicago. He played basketball and golf in high school.

On Tuesday, Brian was asked to go from ignorant to intelligent about the sport. He read up on the events and traditions. I teased him about terms. (What’s it mean when the announcer says “three loops and a hooey”? Hint: It’s what the cowboy does after roping a calf.)

Brian even used some of today’s tools. He went to YouTube to watch some events.

Reporters every day are asked to do similar feats. At the Missourian, most subjects are new to the student-journalists.

It’s a skill for life. Seasoned reporters must become instant experts, or at least in the know enough to ask intelligent questions. I remember doing a story about a neighborhood complaining of a proposed electric substation; who knew I’d learn so much about electromagnetic radiation?

Brian won’t be able to ride a bull by the end of the weekend. But he’ll know, and pass along, many of the things he’s learned. Friday morning, he told me about the toughness of these kids and the violent intensity of those eight seconds of bull riding.

Above all, he has stories to tell about the people who mount up.

On Friday, I read the amazing story of Cody Gregory, who is the youngest certified journeyman farrier in the American Farrier Association. You don’t need to know a thing about shoeing horses to see the extraordinary skills of a 17-year-old.

In fact, great sports reporting often relies less on expertise of an issue than finding and understanding people.

It is the human struggle that all of us can relate to, regardless of whether we know a thing about a dally or a dragger.