HALL OF FAME

Doyle Gellerman: Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame Class of 2023
World Champion Doyle Gellerman will be inducted to the ProRodeo Hall of Fame on July 15, 2023.
reaching roping
Doyle Gellerman and Walt Woodard go 4.9 on their first steer at Buckeye, Arizona, in 1984. Louise Serpa Photo

Doyle Gellerman and Walt Woodard go 4.9 on their first steer at Buckeye, Arizona, in 1984. | Louise Serpa Photo

World champion team roper and 25-time National Finals Rodeo cowboy Doyle Gellerman will be inducted with the ProRodeo Hall of Fame Class of 2023 in Colorado Springs on July 15. Gellerman is just the 20th team roper to be inducted since the Hall opened its doors 44 years ago and celebrated the inaugural Class of 1979.

“It’s a great honor,” said Gellerman, 70, who was raised in the San Francisco Bay Area and now lives in Melba, Idaho, with his wife, Anita. “I don’t even know how to word how this feels. I’m thrilled to join all those great men and women who are already in the Hall. This means a lot to me, and I can’t believe how many people have reached out to congratulate me.”

Gellerman will join World Champion Bulldogger Luke Branquinho, World Champion Saddle Bronc Rider Cody Wright, NFR Pickup Man Kenny Clabaugh, NFR Bronc Rider and TV Commentator Butch Knowles, Clown of the Year Tom Feller, Champion Bareback Horse Night Jacket, Oregon’s St. Paul Rodeo, Cowtown Rodeo of Pilesgrove, New Jersey fame, World Champion Barrel Racer Sherry Combs Johnson and Women’s Professional Rodeo Association Notable Fay Ann Horton Leach at this month’s induction ceremony.

 

Doyle Gellerman, world champion team roper and 25-time National Finalist. | Courtesy PRCA Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame

Rodeo career

Gellerman made his first NFR at 19 in 1972, and actually turned 20 on December 4, 1972 during that year’s Finals in Oklahoma City, where he headed for the late Stan Melshaw. 

“That was the last year they team tied in half the rounds at the NFR, and dallied in the other half,” Gellerman said. “The NFR was all dally team roping starting in 1973.” 

Gellerman’s 25 years at the NFR spanned 1972-1997, with the exception of 1975, when he didn’t go much due to deficient horsepower. On a fun personal note, I remember tagging along with my veterinarian dad, who rodeoed very sparingly around work, to practice at Doyle’s steel-mill-worker dad Leroy’s place in San Jose. 

[READ MORE: What Is Team Tying?]

My dad (Dr. Frank Santos) won the calf roping, team roping and all-around at the 1972 Redding (California) Rodeo—the team roping heeling for Doyle. They got a flag on their first steer, then the old bucking-horse-rider flagger flagged them out. Luckily, Hall of Fame header Les Hirdes was there to ride up and inform the flagger that a panty-hose was a legal heel catch. It’s fun to circle back as an adult and realize now that my dad had a small hand in Doyle making his first Finals. 

Knowing how much my dad has meant to me all my life, I must mention that Doyle lost his only child to leukemia in 2000, when his beautiful Brittany died at 14. She was a beloved member of the rodeo family, and her cowboy favorites wore a yellow heart on their rodeo shirts in her honor and memory. Daniel Green still does. 

Doyle is to this day very proud of the fact that he roped with his dad, Leroy, at the 1973 NFR. He puts that father-son feat on the favorite “big three” of his roping career. Winning the world with Walt Woodard in 1981, and a special evening spent with Hall of Fame tie-down roper Toots Mansfield in Texas were the other two. 

Golden State natives Gellerman and Woodard had identical earnings of $48,818 a man to grab the gold in 1981, back before world champion headers and heelers were named separately and there were sometimes single team roping titlists like, say, Tee Woolman the years before and after, in 1980 and ’82. 

“Walt and I were a good team,” Doyle said. “We won a lot of ropings and rodeos together. We won the PRCA Championship saddle in 1978 (as the regular-season champs; from 1976-78, the world championship was decided on a sudden-death basis on NFR earnings alone), and went into the Finals in the lead again in 1979. In 1980, we did a bunch of roping schools, and rodeoed just enough to make the Finals. 

Doyle and Walt making a run at the 1983 NFR in Oklahoma City. Look at the size of that steer. Jim Fain Photo Courtesy of PRCA
Doyle Gellerman and Walt Woodard making a run at the 1983 NFR in Oklahoma City. | By James Fain

“In 1981, Walt and I said, ‘This is the year we’re giving it all we’ve got.’ We decided we were not going to let anything stand in our way. There were some go-twice rodeos, and while other guys roped with two different people, we chose to only rope once. We wanted to win the world together. And we did.”
“Doyle could reach, but could handle cattle like (Kaleb) Driggers does,” said Woodard, who won a second world title 26 years later in 2007, and has heeled at 20 NFRs. “Steers were really easy to heel behind him.”

[READ MORE: 5 Challenges Heelers Face with Walt Woodard]

Fittingly, Driggers is the contemporary cowboy who catches Gellerman’s eye when he watches occasional rodeos on TV today. 

“To me, he’s just a step above,” Doyle said. “There are so many good guys out there now. But Driggers knows what it takes to win. He’s smart, he has so much ability and he’s always on a good horse. But I like to watch ’em all.”

Making memories

That a legendary tie-down roper makes a team roper’s favorite-memories list is intriguing. 

“When I was a little kid, like 5 or 6, I always remember my dad and his friends talking about Toots Mansfield and how great he was,” Doyle remembers. “In the early ’80s, I had a roping school in Big Spring, Texas, where Toots was from. I was asking around about him, because I wanted to meet him. They said, ‘Guess what, he’s coming over here today to meet you.’

“Toots invited me to dinner, and when we sat down, he said, ‘Tell me about yourself.’ I said, ‘Oh no, I want to hear about you, your rodeo career and all your match ropings.’ We sat there and talked until they shut the restaurant down. Toots told me about having match ropings at a prison with all the inmates watching. That’s a night I’ll never, ever forget. From what I heard, Toots was the greatest roper there was. He was a great cowboy, and a super gentleman.”

Roping with the legends

Doyle was a renowned reacher, but he did win the 10-head NFR average in 1976 heading for Frank Ferreira Sr. They split the first round, were third in Round 4 and split third in Round 10. They were 102.2 seconds on 10 steers to best reserve NFR champs Bucky Bradford and Ronnie Rasco by 12 seconds. For all that, Gellerman and Ferreira won $1,952 a man. (Bradford and Rasco won the world with $2,256 each.) But hey, gas was .59 cents a gallon. 

“We left there happy, because that much money paid for a lot of things back in 1976,” Doyle said. “I bought my first truck in 1971, and gave $4,700 cash for it. In 1974, I roped with Gary Gist at Denver, we won a day money and it paid about $600. I was living in San Jose, California, and drove all the way home for $90. You can’t fill your truck up one time for that today. 

“In those days, if you had a $500–$600 NFR, you more than paid for your trip. It took $100,000 to make the Finals last year, but these guys today better not have a cold streak that lasts very long, because it costs so much to go now. The cold spells were the hardest part of rodeoing for me. I loved the travel. I didn’t care if I had to drive all day and all night. What I didn’t like was when we weren’t winning.”

Reachers were much more rare in Doyle’s day. But that was just Gellerman’s way. 

“When I roped, I threw caution to the wind,” he said. “I got my card in 1968 (when he was 15), and started rodeoing in California. I remember wanting to win so bad that I just couldn’t hang on to that rope any longer. In my mind, I was always thinking I wasn’t going to win anything if I went any further down the arena.”

Gellerman roped with Britt Bockius at the NFR from 1994-96 and, “Really enjoyed roping with Britt. He was the new style. He was the guy. He could just do it.” Doyle hasn’t rodeoed hard since 2000, and has worked as an oilfield inspector the last 14 years. 

Doyle roped with Britt Bockius at three straight NFRs from 1994-96. They set new NFR fast-time records in both ’94 and ’95. | PRCA file photo

“I’m very content with my rodeo career,” Doyle says in retrospect. “I enjoyed rodeo, and had a lot of fun. I especially enjoyed the winning. I’m happy I got to rope with my dad at the Finals in 1973, and Britt and I got to break Jake and Clay’s NFR record at the 1994 NFR when we were 4.1 (in Round 9). Then we came back in 1995, and were the first team ever to rope a steer in 3 at the Finals (they were 3.8 to win Round 5). I’m proud of that.

“The only rodeo I ever remember seeing on TV as a kid was when they put the last round of the National Finals on Wide World of Sports. When I was about 14, I watched Ken Luman clinch the world championship. I decided that night that I was going to do whatever it took to do that. Seeing somebody I knew personally win the world motivated me to want to do it myself.”

[READ MORE: The Reach]

What comes to mind when Gellerman’s cowboy contemporaries think about the good old days they shared with Doyle?

HP Evetts was the 1974 world champion team roper. Like Gellerman, H was a risk-taking reacher. 
“I’ve known Doyle since he was a little kid, and he was always impressive to me,” Evetts said. “He rode my horse, Old Buck, at his first Finals (in part because you could team tie and dally on him). 

“I got to Phoenix one year, they drew the steers and I asked who’d had mine. They said Doyle. I said, ‘Just because Doyle’s winning the rodeo on him doesn’t mean he’s a good one.’ Doyle always stuck it out there. That steer outran me. I didn’t even hit him in the ass.”

Jerold Camarillo was the 1969 world champion heeler. His Hall of Fame brother, Leo “The Lion” Camarillo, was one of Doyle’s NFR partners. 

“Doyle reached way out there, and he dipped that loop so he caught the right horn and nose for a half head as good as anybody I’ve ever seen,” Jerold said. “It was a higher percentage shot than trying to reach that far and catch two horns, and he was good at it. 

“Doyle was damn sure known for going for first place. That guy would win the first round, then—watch out—he’s going to try and win the second round, too, and 40 percent ’em.” 

Bobby Hurley was the 1993 and ’95 world champion team roper. He won that first gold buckle solo, then was crowned the first-ever world champion header that second year; Gellerman finished second to him in 1995.

“There were other guys who threw a coil, but Doyle came from way back with it,” Hurley said. “When he stuck it on one, it was for money. Doyle was the go-for-first guy. He was a consistent reacher. That sounds crazy, but it’s true. Coming with it was just his game plan. 

“When I was a kid, I’d see the Doyle Gellermans, Tee Woolmans, Jake Barnes and Reg Camarillos roping at the Finals on the Hesston telecast, and looked up to all of them. I wanted to make a living with a rope, so was doing all I could to try to be like them.”

Doyle headed for 1991 World Champion Bobby Harris at his last NFR in 1997.

“Doyle was the up-and-comer behind Reg and HP, and was the man before Jake and Tee,” Harris said. “When I first came in, and made my first NFR in 1981, that was the same year Doyle and Walt won the world after coming in in the lead a couple times. Doyle and Walt were one of the teams that were always in the conversation. 

“People forget how dominant Doyle was. He was kind of under the radar, but he was definitely a force to be reckoned with. I don’t think Doyle ever took an extra swing when he was rodeoing. I was Doyle’s first partner after he and Walt split in 1985, then he roped with Rickey at that year’s NFR and I roped with Tee. Doyle taught me a lot about teaching roping schools. We roped again later, and I finally won the Cow Palace in 1997 roping with Doyle. That was the grand finale of the regular season, and was a big win back then.”

A style all his own

Seven-time World Champion Clay Cooper also shared in Gellerman’s glory days. 

“When I first came in, Doyle and Walt were one of the elite teams right there at the top, and Doyle was the blonde bomber,” Cooper recalls. “Doyle went for a first-place check every single time. Doyle and Walt won both rounds at the Cow Palace one year, and their second run was one of the coolest runs I’ve ever seen. Doyle reached so far that he lost his horse’s bridle reins, and dallied at the knot. That little bay made the corner, Walt heeled him and the little bay faced. It was just balls to the wall. 

“Doyle had a cool, long reach shot, but a lot of times it was a strategic half-head. To this day, Jake practices that shot non-stop on the dummy—the over-the-top Doyle Gellerman reach-to-the-knot half-head shot. Doyle had the coolest bomb shot ever. The next coolest thing I ever saw was at Tucson one year, when Doyle was riding a big black that sulled up and got goofy on him. When he was backing him in the box, the horse went a little bit ballistic, took off, broke through the barrier and ducked into the crowd.

“When he got him gathered back up, Doyle had a big old gash on his arm. There was blood everywhere, but Doyle kept his cool, rode back in the box, spun him for first and won the day money. I rodeoed alongside Doyle about 10 years, and he was just a softspoken, witty, cool dude. He almost talks in a whisper, and he’s funny as heck. Doyle looks at life through a funny lens. He’s a cutup, and I like that in people.” TRJ

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