It’s 3:45 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon. Most high school students are headed toward some sort of activity – football, debate, soccer, band.

W.T. White junior Michael Barraco usually has his share of that, too. But today he is on his way to take care of a problem. It seems his team’s mascot has broken down a fence.

Not too surprising, considering Barraco’s team is the Rodeo Club, and their mascot is a 1,100-lb. Longhorn named “Tough.”

This is the first year for W.T. White’s Rodeo Team, and there wouldn’t be one if it hadn’t been for Barraco. He wanted to form some type of competitive club at his school last year, but it wasn’t until he made a trip to the Texas High School Rodeo Finals in June that he decided to take the mission on full swing. “I watched those guys, and I thought, ‘I can do that,’” he says.

So he enlisted the help of his girlfriend, Jessica Watkins, and his mom, Kelli Herd, who serves as the team sponsor. The team is part of the North Texas High School Rodeo Association, a non-profit organization that hosts rodeos every weekend from September to June. In addition to Barraco and Watkins, there are six other team members: Wiley Adair, Travis Cleaveland, Keenan Jones, Emily Lyon, Jacoby Taylor and Claire Wilson.

Coming into this year, Barraco was the only one with experience. He grew up around cowboys on his grandfather’s ranch near Abilene, where he learned how to rope. But Barraco, along with everyone else on the team, is still learning.

The team competes in events including barrel racing, team roping, ribbon roping, steer undecorating, pole bending, bull riding and chute dogging – which Barraco explains is when you have to wrestle a steer to the ground.

“It takes sheer brute strength, but there’s also a lot of technique to it. You’re wrestling a 1,100-lb. animal,” he says, pointing out that he and two of the other boys that compete in this event are also on the wrestling team.

The team practices every Tuesday after school. After loading up their horses (all three belong to Barraco), they head to an arena in Wilmer owned by a 75-year-old man named Bubba, who lets the team use the building.

Although the club is not technically a school team (rodeo is not organized as a regular high school varsity sport), W.T. White has embraced and supported the rodeo team, Barraco says.

“The more you enhance a high school with activities the kids like, the better they become academically. So we try to come up with as many activities as we can,” says W.T. White Principal Joy Barnhart. “It’s an unusual activity for urban youth,” she says of the Rodeo Team. Most other schools involved in the NTHSRA are more rural.

Barnhart says the team also inspires school spirit, especially with “Tough” as the new school mascot. “It’s a pride thing. We have Tough’s pictures in the halls. We put the rodeo team near the front of the homecoming parade,” she says.

And speaking of “Tough,” a constant fixture at each home football game, although he may have a fence incident every now and then, Barraco says the cow is harmless.

“I broke him in this summer – from a wild cow into a pet. Now he’s like a big dog. We take him on walks, we pet him.”

As far as the future of the Rodeo Club, Barraco hopes it will become more popular.

“I’d love to see us go to the finals either this year or next. Only 10 people out of every event go, so it’s a big deal. I’d also like to see the team grow.

“And,” he adds laughing, “I’d like to see some people come in that have horses.”


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