Three-time World Champion Team Roper Tee Woolman is one of only six cowboys ever to win the world as a ProRodeo rookie. His fabulous freshman feat puts him in rare company in the rodeo record books alongside steer wrestler Harry Charters, 1959; bull rider Bill Kornell, 1963; tie-down ropers Roy Cooper, 1976, and Joe Beaver, 1985; and bull rider Sage Kimzey, 2014.
Woolman—who won the world team roping title the same time he took rookie of the year honors—surprised no one, including himself, when he doubled down in 1980.
“I was totally prepared, and I had a goal in mind,” said Woolman, who turned 24 during the run of the 1980 NFR and is now 61. “That’s what I wanted to do, and that’s what I was going to do. The only puzzle piece that was missing was the right partner. Then here came Leo, and we were off and running.”
Tee attended Leo, Jerold and Reg Camarillo’s team roping school in Chickasha, Oklahoma, when he was 14.
“Leo told me then, ‘If you ever want to rope sometime, let me know,’” Woolman remembers. “I didn’t see him again until I was in college (at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant). I saw him at Bill Roer’s Rope-a-thon in Phoenix, and he said the same thing again about calling him if I ever wanted to rope.
“Roy (Cooper) was driving back and forth to Durant (where Super Looper lived at the time) during the Finals (in 1979; the Finals was held at The Myriad in Oklahoma City that year), and he told me one day that I needed to go up there and see Leo. So I went with Roy to the rodeo one night, and we talked. That’s when Leo said, ‘OK, I’ll give you a chance.’”
Back then, brand new ProRodeo cowboys either needed to win enough to fill their permits, or have two board members and three Rodeo Cowboys Association members sign for their card. Then-RCA Team Roping Director Dick Yates and Bull Riding Director John Davis signed for Tee, as did fellow cowboys (and eventual ProRodeo Hall of Famers) Leo, Jerold and Roy.
“By them doing that, I could enter Odessa and Denver to get started on my goal straight out of the blocks,” Tee said. “In 1980, most of the rodeos were go once, but there were still a few here and also up in Canada that were go twice. When I could enter a second time, I entered with Jerold or Mike Beers.”
If you’ve ever wondered why Tee and Leo weren’t the co-champs in 1980, that’s back before world heading and heeling champs were crowned separately, so there were at times lone titlists in the tandem event. Tee was the Lone Ranger in the 1982 gold buckle, too, beating partner Leo by just $129. Woolman earned his third world championship alongside his heeler, Bobby Harris, in 1991, with the exact same earnings. The $1,337 difference between Tee and The Lion in 1980 was due to the go-twice factor that fall.
“I was actually a little behind Leo,” Tee recalls. “Mike chartered a plane to fly into St. George, Utah, got there just in time to get on a horse and rope, and we won it. That’s when I passed Leo.
“Leo and a palomino horse named Doc are the biggest reasons I won the world my rookie year. Leo took care of all the business. He knew where to go, how to get there, when and why. All I had to do was get on and rope, and I knew how to rope.”
Tee says it would be a lot tougher to win the world as a rookie now, in large part because so many of the bigger rodeos have limited entries based on previous earnings.
“It’s hard to get entered in a lot of rodeos now, if you haven’t been around the block before,” explained Woolman, who with Leo also set the 10-steer NFR average record in 1980, with 98.7 in 10 rounds. “The limits on the rodeos today make it a lot harder to hit the ground running.”
TeeSquantnee Claude Woolman’s list of in-arena achievements is long and impressive. With 45 National Finals qualifications—he’s team roped at the NFR 26 times, and made 19 National Finals Steer Roping appearances—Tee’s second only to Trevor Brazile at 50 in the most-ever Finals category. Tee’s won six National Finals averages—five in the team roping and the 1998 NFSR title—and also owns the 1985 and ’95 National Finals all-around saddles.
But it’s the gold buckle dated the same as his rookie buckle that ranks above all the rest on the self-satisfaction scale for Tee.
“That’s at the top,” he said. “Only five other people have ever done it. And that was one of my goals when I set out to rope for a living. The only downfall for me about it was I thought once you won the world, you were good to go for the rest of your life. I was 24 years old and seeing the bright lights for the first time.
“When I won almost $50,000 ($49,983, to be exact) that first year, it shattered the existing team roping earnings record by almost double. Looking back, I think the one thing no young guy ever really gets going in is that a week after you win the world you bail back into that truck and take off and go again. Most people don’t understand that.”