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Retired Gillette roper teaches next generation

GILLETTE, Wyo. (AP) -- His voice booms through the rodeo arena, echoing like distant thunder.

His infectious smile reminds those around him that every day in the saddle is a good day.

The pounding of the hooves, both steer and horse, reinforced that fact one Saturday morning at the Cam-plex East Pavilion

Bobby Harris, the 18-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier, will tell you his heyday has come and gone. But even at 49, the passion he displays in roping and teaching tells you he hasn't lost much of a step. The team roping header is certainly in his element, bringing his roping school back to his hometown for two days.

In many ways, he's still the same guy Nick and Jayne Harris raised on the Morse/Harris Ranch north of Gillette.

"I'm so proud of Wyoming. I'm from a ranch north of Gillette. The people that know me, know that's who I am," said Harris, who teamed with header Tee Woolman to win a team roping world championship in 1991," he told the Gillette News Record "I'm just a kid that grew up in Wyoming and went to a country school."

After thirty years of rodeoing, he knows the road. That hasn't changed much since he cut down his PRCA schedule a few years back. In May, he'll take the Bobby Harris Roping School to Chicago. The summer schedule also includes Hermiston, Ore., Idaho Falls, Idaho, and sessions in Montana and South Dakota.

But recently he was home and his attitude reflected it.

"Gillette's always been home," he said, as if he just liked the sound of saying it out loud.

As each steer broke from the chute with team ropers giving chase, Harris would follow the action, barking suggestions and ideas for improvement.

"That's good, very good," he told Anna Jorgenson as she flew down the arena.

The Gillette 10-year-old rode like someone who was born in the saddle.

Her mom, Pam, and sister, Sam, were also in the class of 25 headers and heelers.

Anna roped her steer almost every time, though it looked like one good pull might unseat the pony-tailed youngster.

Harris, who was both a Wyoming High School all-around champion and the PRCA rookie of the year in steer roping in 1978, knows it all has to start somewhere.

"I'm 49 years old and I've probably been roping 40 years of that," he said with a laugh.

Sometimes his comments were about posture in the saddle or staying focused on the running steer at all times. "Now, now," he'd scream to the heeler, indicating it was time to pull the trigger.

"Almost fell off didn't ya?" he said to one cowboy, who was off balance.

Former bareback world champion Wayne Herman of Halliday, N.D., took the school along with his son Jake. For him, it was more like, "I'll teach you how to rope, but my days of getting on a bucking horse are long gone."

Herman knows the feeling.

He smiled as he sat in the stands during a lunch break.

"I've always liked roping," he said. "Now I'm going to rope with my kids. Jake wants to rodeo in college, so this is good for him." Herman won his gold buckle in 1992, the year after Harris claimed his world championship.

"I've known Bobby since the '80s. He does a really good job of teaching and knows what each individual needs," Herman added.

For the guy that grew up north of Gillette, his passion for roping is what allows him to work with anyone, from former world champions to first-time ropers.

The fire still burns. It's never been extinguished.

"When I was a kid, I wanted to play basketball at UCLA. I wanted to play football for Oklahoma and professional baseball for the Dodgers," Harris said, his grin getting wider and wider at the irony of childhood dreams. "But I always knew I was going to be a cowboy."

That's still a big part of his journey. Two years ago, Harris competed in what could have been his final National Finals Rodeo.

It's been a long road, but he's still just as competitive as he was when he opened his PRCA career.

Only, now, his pursuit involves ropers who are trying to take their skills to the next level.