Q: What stands out 41 years later when you think back on that historic rookie year heading for Leo Camarillo as the new kid on the block?
A: Winning the world championship. Bottom line, my goal was to rope with Leo and win the world championship my first year. It was a blur. We went to 127 rodeos, and only turned out two steers. There were no rodeo limits, and team roping wasn’t a standard event at every rodeo, either. It was trains, planes and automobiles roping with Leo.
Q: Super Looper Roy Cooper helped hook you up with The Lion, right?
A: Yes. It all started when I went to Leo, Jerold and Reg’s roping school in Chickasha, Oklahoma, when I was 14. Leo told me then that if I ever wanted to rodeo to give him a call. Roy and I were going to school in Durant, and Roy was driving back and forth from Durant to Oklahoma City roping at the 1979 NFR. One day during the Finals, Roy said, “You need to jump in and go with me tonight, Leo wants to talk to you.” Back then, if the event director and two other guys signed for your card, you didn’t have to fill your permit to rodeo in the PRCA (Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association). Dick Yates was the team roping event director, and he signed it. John Davis was the bull riding director and going to school with us at Durant, so he signed it. Jerold was the third signature vouching that I was ready. I bought my card, and Leo and I were entered at Odessa a couple weeks later to kick off the 1980 season (when Tee was 23; Tee won the world in 1980 and ’82 roping with Leo).
Q: Besides Leo, Bobby Harris has to be your other main man when it comes to heelers you won the most with. You two won the world in 1991. What was it about your team’s chemistry?
A: Bob and I got along so good together. He was really consistent, and our run just clicked. We had fun roping together, and I think that’s what it’s all about.
Q: You roped at 19 National Finals Steer Ropings between 1985 and 2005, and 26 NFRs between 1980 and 2007. Your grand total of 45 National Finals qualifications is second only to Trevor Brazile’s 54. To what do you attribute your longevity and consistency?
A: I’m like Leo—I love rodeo. That was our job. And if you love your job, you’re going to excel at it. When I rodeoed, I knew everybody in every event, and every stock contractor and rodeo secretary. I loved watching the whole rodeo. I wasn’t in it to make the National Finals—I wanted to be the world champion. I wanted to win every rodeo I went to. Kids who say they want to make the NFR aren’t setting their goals high enough. I didn’t take anyone’s word on the start. I studied it, and decided for myself. My whole generation loved every aspect of rodeo like that.
Q: You won five NFR team roping averages—two with Leo in 1980 and ’82; two with Bobby in 1987 and ’90; and one with Cory Petska in 2005. You also won the National Finals all-around championship in 1985 and ’95 with team roping and steer roping earnings; and the NFSR average in 1998. Your consistency was legendary, and yet you took a staggering 42 National Finals victory laps for go-round wins. How did you always manage to balance round-winning runs with staying strong in the average?
A: When you set your runs up, the steers dictate what you’re going to win. I went for fourth (in the rounds), and if I drew the good one, it was first. I tried not to beat myself. I kind of let the steers tell me what I could and couldn’t win.
Q: Leo always bragged on your horsemanship, and you rode a lot of good ones. Name the one horse that stands above the rest, and what made him so special.
A: I had (four-time Horse of the Year) Dutch in the steer roping, and several great ones in the team roping. Megazord (2004 Head Horse of the Year) was special to us, because we raised him. I rode my yellow horse Doc in 1980 and ’82. I had a mare, Big Bertha, that I won the championship on with Bob Harris, and had several in between that were really good, too.
Q: You lived in Llano, Texas 38 years, 1983-2021, and have made a living training Tee Woolman Performance Horses for a long time. Talk about next month’s big move, and what’s next.
A: We’re moving to Bluffdale, Texas, which is about 15 miles out of Stephenville, the first of the year to manage the new Arena 377 facility. It has two arenas, stalls and RV hookups. We’ll lease it out to people who want to put on ropings and barrel races, and will host a few events ourselves. It’ll be a new adventure, and we’re excited about it.
Q: What were the best and worst parts of rodeoing for a living all those years?
A: The worst was losing. Rodeoing is so full of ups and downs, and you never hit a level stride. When you’re winning, it’s easy and you’re on top of the world. When you’re losing, you’re on the bottom of the world trying to claw your way out. The guys who are fundamentally sound crawl out of the struggles faster. Leo taught me that. When we were struggling, he said we just needed to catch one, because rodeo’s all about confidence. We went back to the basics—score, ride, rope—and bam, it turned back around. You have to be fundamentally sound and strong-minded to succeed in the long run. I still miss being out there with all those guys and competing.
Q: In what ways has roping and rodeo changed in your lifetime?
A: The livestock has gotten smaller, and everything is faster now. Headers don’t have the luxury of setting runs up, like we used to. Now the header goes as fast as he can, and the heeler does, too. So many guys rope phenomenal, but the art to the teamwork is being lost, because there’s no time for it.
Q: At 65, you’re a 7+ header and a 7 heeler. Will you rope at the World Series Finale in Vegas again this month?
A: Yes, I’ll heel for Brooke Bearden in the #13, Bobby Marsh in the #12 and Craig Moore in the #11. I like going, and getting to run into a lot of the older guys I rodeoed with and getting to talk to the younger guys in person and not just on the phone. I still love rodeo. TRJ