That thing they call rodeo

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— The cheers returned to Brent Romick Rodeo Arena on Friday night along with the bulls, bucking horses and steers.

It's rodeo season in Steamboat Springs once again.

For me it means pulling that long-sleeved Western shirt out of the back of my closet, squeezing my feet into cowboy boots that are a little small and trying to look at home in a cowboy hat.

The only problem is that I grew up in the suburbs -- a place where people rarely wear cowboy hats.

The closest my friends and I ever got to a bucking horse, or any horse for that matter, was a plastic toy suspended by four wire springs.

I was 5 the last time I rode on it, and I'm fairly sure my parents sold it during their last garage sale.

But my lack of experience hasn't stopped me from getting a taste of the cowboy lifestyle since arriving here. A big part of that exposure has come from covering the rodeo series during the summer.

Last weekend, thousands of spectators were exposed to this long-running tradition.

Some of them were regulars but many of them were new fans to the sport. They came from the city, from places such as Centennial, where I was born and raised.

I would bet money that more than a few of them were baseball players who came to play in the Triple Crown tournament and dream of becoming major leaguers someday.

After watching the professional athletes giving their all on the dusty floor of the rodeo arena, a few of them might head back to the suburbs with dreams of becoming a cowboy.

It could happen.

But even if these young players don't become the next big stars of the Professional Bull Riders Association, at least a few of them will have gotten a taste of one of the oldest and purest sports in America.

They left Romick Arena with a good idea of just how hard it is to stay on the back of a 2,000-pound bull or the challenges a cowboy has in catching a fast-running calf with a rope while seated on the back of a horse.

Will rodeo ever be as popular among American teens as football, baseball or basketball?

No way.

But rodeo will expose these kids to something that isn't found in most of today's mainstream sports: character.

You see, cowboys are not given million-dollar contracts just to ride. If they reach the million-dollar mark in their career or find those rich sponsorship deals, and only a few have, they will have to earn it by risking their health in a sport that rarely pays.

That's more than I can say for some of Colorado's mainstream sports washouts.

After spending parts of the past couple of years hanging out with rodeo cowboys, I think more than a few of the spoiled superstar sports figures we see on television could learn a thing or two about what it means to love a sport.

It makes me sad that I didn't spend a little more time riding that plastic horse in my parents' basement and dreaming of being a cowboy.

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