Steamboat Pilot & Today sports reporter and photographer Joel Reichenberger can be reached at 871-4253 or jreichenberger@SteamboatToday.com.
Find more columns by Joel here.
Steamboat Springs Joe Bishop is 72 years old, but his face lit up like a child's Friday evening as Troy "The Wild Child" Lerwill spun donuts into the dirt of the Brent Romick Rodeo Arena with his motorcycle, opening his signature and wildly popular rodeo act.
"Watch this!" Bishop called, peering out the windows of a pickup attached to the performer's trailer and parked in the middle of the rodeo arena. Lerwill buzzed around outside, the former motocross professional pretending to be a fool of a clown who accidentally found himself atop a powerful dirt bike.
There was a consensus at Friday night's rodeo. Old men in dusty cowboy hats and pearl-button shirts looked at one another and offered simple appraisals: "That boy's got a heck of an act."
Bishop, though, reigned as the biggest fan.
That's one of the reasons he said he could justify helping pay the bill to bring Lerwill to Steamboat.
"I like the specialty acts, so I like to sponsor them," he said.
Spend a few minutes at a rodeo, and it's obvious sponsors aren't a new concept. Nearly everything moving or stationary has a sponsor's name attached.
Bishop, though, hasn't exchanged his generosity for the right to plug a company. No - Lerwill is in Steamboat for two weekends this summer, and Bishop paid half the costs simply because he wants to see a good show.
"I refuse to serve on the rodeo board," he said with a grin. "They want you to work two nights every week. I just want to go to the rodeo."
Paying for Lerwill is no small donation. His show costs about twice what the Steamboat rodeo normally would allocate for a weekend's entertainment. The rodeo board agreed to foot the bill for one week of The Wild Child, but - well aware that a tough economic summer loomed - opted not to pay for two.
So, Bishop stepped in. That's nothing new. A retired building contractor who moved to Steamboat from Denver nine years ago, he usually pays for an act each summer, picking something spectacular he thinks will best benefit the rodeo.
"I've been around rodeo a long time, watched a lot of rodeos," said Bishop, born into a major stock-contracting family in Oklahoma. "I just like to bring good entertainment in."
Bishop was excited, sitting in the truck as hundreds of eyes tracked a spinning Lerwill. The Wild Child kept up the ruse, bucking up and down on the bike as if it were a 40-point bronco.
Bishop was quick to realize when Lerwill had to improvise after losing a handle on the bike and picked the new jokes from the old with ease.
He laughed at all of them.
And his eyes were wide at the end of the performance when a suddenly capable clown hit a ramp at the back of the trailer and flew 60 feet through the air, skimming over the top of the truck's cab to wild cheers from an astonished audience.
No one was happier than Bishop.