BY AARON ONTIVEROZ
Tribune Staff Writer
Dust rises beneath the pounding hooves of the one-plus-ton quarter horse tearing across the dirt-covered arena floor like a Middle Eastern sandstorm set to the tone of a bass drum while topping speeds of more than 40 miles per hour. Sid Sporer sits atop a saddle twirling his lasso, which looks more like a whirlwind manifesting of his hand. Sporer's marble green eyes intently focus on the rear heels of the calf running furiously in front of the Northwest College cowboy and his horse, Leo.
Immediately after Sporer's team roping partner of just one year, Eddie Hawley, a Montana State University junior, wraps a Volkswagen-sized loop around the neck of the small bovine and tightens it, NWC's top athlete of the College National Finals Rodeo snaps into action.
The calf breaks to the left, away from Sporer who is tight on its heels. Sporer, with the speed and accuracy of a Major League pitcher, fires a strike in front of the animal's heels. It steps into the loop as Sporer's hands move quickly to secure the Fastback lasso around his saddle horn. In less time than it takes to sneeze, Sporer attaches the nylon rope to the horn of his well-ridden saddle. The sheer size of Leo and the strength of the rope wrench the calf from his hooves like a punch to the face.
NWC Head Coach Del Nose shouts during the run, "Get it, get it!" Before the official time flashes across the scoreboard, Nose tells anyone within earshot, "That's it," referring to the fact Sporer and Hawley are now in the national top five.
Though Nose already confirmed the score to the cowboys behind the chutes, Sporer and Hawley look to the board as the announcer declares through the PA, "They came in at 10th and now there are your second-ranked team ropers with an aggregate score of 14.6 seconds."
At the beginning of the season, Sporer surprised everyone - his coach included - when he won the first college rodeo of his career in his hometown Cody.
Standing 6-3 (without boots) and weighing 240 pounds, Sporer's stature is better suited for a linebacker, or in the field of rodeo, a steer wrestler. But since he started roping more than a decade ago at age 4, Sporer only wanted to compete one way -- like his dad who steeped his son in the family trade.
The younger Sporer's hands are better classified as big, meaty mitts and his stature is imposing, but his mild-mannered nature is nothing short of humble.
On horseback with a rope in hand, the Goliath of a cowboy rides, twirls and throws with the
finesse of a ballroom dancer. He possesses the touch of a surgeon - an oddity for a man with such a build.
Not only did Sporer surprise the rest of the field in Cody by winning his first college rodeo as
a freshman, he did it with a lastminute partner. Before the rodeo started he approached breakaway roper, Jennifer Weeding, and the rest was written in the history of Sid Sporer.
Sporer entered the season at number one and his goal for the 2006 CNFR, end the season at
number one. And with two solid rides under his belt, he set the standard.
Late Friday afternoon, Sporer shuffles his way lackadaisically toward the Casper Events Center while tucking his shirt into his pants, while his NWC vest hangs loosely from his belt. In less than two hours he will be called to the chutes for his turn to take a shot at the national lead.
Though he is scheduled to ride later in the night, one would be oblivious to the fact as Sporer saunters the long echoing halls of the events center. Before he can even make it to the contestants' area where his horse is waiting to be saddled, a group of cowgirls notice the NWC cowboy walking in their direction and happily shout to him in hopes that he will notice them, "Hey Sid."
Sporer nods and says, "Hey." Before the girls can ask any further questions he adds, "I gotta go saddle my horse."
As the night's performance draws closer, Sporer and Hawley sit in 34th, but that mark leads all competitors still waiting for a third go by a full three seconds. All the duo needs to take the lead is a 9.5 second run - their slowest of the week was their first go at 8.1.
Sporer checks his draw for the night and is noticeably happy with the stock as each of the first two teams roped it in less than eight seconds flat.
Unlike Sporer's lackadaisical walk into the arena, the night's performance is well under way with each of the first six events finished without a numb feel. Team roping starts with a handful
of twosomes, who have little chance of making a legitimate run at a title. And then comes the duo of Sporer, Hawley.
The near-capacity crowd is silent through the first few teams, but when the announcer states proudly over the PA, "And this next heeler is a cowboy from Cody High School," the fans sitting in the stands erupt with a sense of pride knowing one of their own made it to the highest level of competition.
Calmly, Sporer backs Leo to the right side of the chute where the steer is being held. Sporer's
eyes don't stray in any direction away from the steer. Just as quickly as the event approached,
Sporer nods his cap and the steer explodes out of the chute with two horses rapidly gaining ground behind him.
Hawley wastes no time throwing his rope around the horns of the animal. The run looks like it will unfold seamlessly, but unexpectedly, the steer turns to the right and pins himself against the wall of the arena floor.
Sporer follows twirling his rope hesitantly, waiting for an open shot as time ticks off the clock. The 9.5 second goal approaches and passes in an instant before Sporer even has a chance
to make an attempt. Just after the goal passes, Sporer sees an opening and without his earlier hesitation, fires a textbook throw. The duo lost only .7 seconds and remains in contention as the secondranked team in the nation entering Saturday's short go.
After the missed attempt to capture the lead, Sporer was not at all worried commenting, "When the steer got against the wall I didn't want to take a dumb shot. I knew I could make it, so I waited."
He continued, "It would have been nice to be in first, but we still feel good. One second can be won or lost."
Sporer's earliest memory of rodeo came from his early youth when his dad, Marty, traveled
from rodeo-to-rodeo taking his young son along. It was then that Sporer developed an undying passion for the sport, which he ultimately chose in favor of any other sport. Sporer, without regret, will admit his size could have played a role in earning himself a spot on a college roster of another sport, but as he grew to see it, rodeo was his one shot to make it big.
Since Sid started his decadelong journey to the CNFR, his father supported him to an endless
extreme. Thousands of dollars spent on gallons of diesel fuel, top-quality steeds and a father's
undying love of his son's success.
Before Sid's ride Saturday night, his father, also mild-mannered and with a simple, soft-spoken vernacular told his son, "Good luck and have fun."
With each passing event at Saturday night's short go, the tension grows among the 10,000-plus fans, eliminated cowboys/girls, and above all, the final 12 athletes in each event. For six events, records are tied or broken, and titles are won and lost, while 11 athletes leave the arena floor broken hearted, or for many, the final time.
Once team roping arrives, the seventh event of the night, only two teams are in contention, Sid Sporer and Eddie Hawley and the nation-leading duo of Central Arizona College's Meansy Means and the NWC cowboy's counter part at heeler, Matt Garza of New Mexico State University.
A mere seven-tenths of a second separate the teams, while the duo of Sporer and Hawley maintain a commanding two-second lead on the third-ranked pair of cowboys.
As the first 10 teams rope, none make a legitimate claim towards winning the national title. The top team leading to Sporer and Hawley's run leave them more than a second of room on top of the pair's slowest run of the week in which to perform.
Again, the crowd roars at the announcement of a Cody, Wyo., cowboy, but Sporer, like a worldclass athlete, blocks the deafening uproar out of his head. In this moment, everything that has risen must converge for the young, small-town Wyoming cowboy. Raised in a state known for a proud history of the cowboy way of life, Sporer, perhaps more than a majority of athletes competing is more prepared for the defining moment of his 19 years at this point in time.
The run is a sonic boom in its speed. Hawley throws right out of the box and before the steer can turn, or step Sporer wraps the animal's legs and tightens more quickly than any other run previous in the week. Nervously, while holding their breath along with every person in attendance, the pair looks to the giant screen overlooking the arena floor. Boldly the announcer declares, "Six point one! A Montana and Wyoming Cowboy now lead the nation!"
Now, more loudly than anytime through the week of thousands of rides, ropes, wins and losses, the crowd screams and rises to their feet as Sporer, for the first time in more than a decade's worth of rodeos, fans his sweat-lined Serratelli hat while Leo sprints furiously across the arena floor. When the nation-leading duo exits the dirt-covered arena, dozens of fellow
athletes, coaches and friends swarm giving congratulations by way of high-fives and pats on the
haunches of the quarter horse.
Sporer, now with a smile plastered across his face, waits for the newly-replaced nation's leaders to go. Everyone in the arena rapidly computes the logistics in their heads. Anything faster than a 6.9 second run will result in a shortlived lead for the Sporer, Hawley team.
In an interview before the short go, Sporer proclaimed, "No one remembers who didn't win. People only ask, ‘who won?'"
In the seconds leading to Garza and Means' go, Sporer is no doubt thinking the same thought.
An almost identical run begins to unfold in front of the capacity crowd. Garza, like a well-oiled machine twirls three times and fires his shot - a perfect throw.
The fans clap and everyone's attention focuses in on the scoreboard. Over the PA, the announcer shouts, "Six point five! And with that, this team wins the national title by three-tenths of a second in the final run of the night!"
A mixed sound of claps, gasps and cheers overtakes the stands, but Sporer simply lets out a breath, which seemingly takes the life out of his once smile-clad face. He turns his horse and casually rides out of the arena while Garza and Means take a victory lap around the floor.
He came into the season number one and throughout the course of the week-long national rodeo, Sporer performed at a level of a national champion, though only 19 years old, he nearly dominated the field of more than 80 teams.
Modestly, Sporer answers an endless number of phone calls from curious friends after the
rodeo. In between calls he confidently comments nearly an hour after the three-tenths of a second kept him away from his a national title, "Of everybody who is here, second is a huge accomplishment, but within the next three years I want to win first."
And with that, Sporer proudly stands in his 6-3, 240-pound frame and walks out of the arena on his way to the next rodeo.