Leo “The Lion” Camarillo is a roping revolutionary who’s spent his career and life raising the bar on the roping game. He owns five gold buckles—four world team roping titles dated 1972, ’73, ’75 and ’83, and the 1975 world all-around crown, which he co-owns with fellow ProRodeo Hall of Famer Tom Ferguson.
Leo holds the record for most Wrangler National Finals Rodeo team roping average championships with six, including four straight during his glory days of domination. In 1968, Leo won the 10-steer NFR average with fellow California cowboy Billy Wilson. From 1969-71, Leo went on a three-year, NFR-average heater with cousin Reg Camarillo that earned them billing as the consummate consistency kings.
In 1980, Leo helped young rookie Tee Woolman win his first of three world titles after they won the NFR average. Tee and Leo struck again for Tee’s second (of five in the team roping) and Leo’s sixth NFR average crown in 1982. As a significant side note, that was back in the day when the team roper with the highest earnings was the champ—even if that meant just one guy won the world.
Tee won the world title both of those years, and if it went down today like it did back then, Leo would have won the world heeling championship in 1980 and ’82. Leo also was the reserve world champion team roper—and winningest heeler—in 1974, when partner H.P. Evetts was named the solo world titlist in the tandem event.
How close was Leo to adding additional world championships to his laundry list of achievements in 1980 and ’82? In 1980, he finished $1,337 behind Tee, and in ’82, Leo was just $129 short of the gold. Here’s hoping all you team roping champs in more recent times know just how much the likes of Leo Camarillo did to pave the way as a short-list pioneer among game changers who left the limelight better and brighter for those who came behind him than it was when he showed up on the scene and team roping wasn’t even a standard event.
Then there were those experimental years—1976-78—when they named the winningest team at the NFR the world champs. If you take 1976 as one example, Leo topped the regular season with $30,761 (Reg, H.P and Leo’s brother and fellow ProRodeo Hall of Famer, Jerold, who was the 1969 champ of the world, finished second, third and fourth, respectively). That year’s world champs, Bucky Bradford and Ronnie Rasco, won the world based on $2,256 in NFR earnings.
Happy birthday, Leo! And on behalf of today’s booming team roping industry, sincere thanks for all you have done in your 72 years to raise the roping bar—in and out of the arena. I’ve talked to them all, and every header who ever roped with you credits you for stepping up his game as both a roper and a businessman. To hear an industry icon like Jake Barnes credit you for making a professional out of him is about as legendary as legacies get. Then there’s Clay O’Brien Cooper, who says, “Leo’s always been a hero of mine. Leo was the leader, and I’ve always had a very strong respect for him.”
Long live The Lion!