Thinning and shaping the herd

Aug 6, 2017 By Randy Tucker, Staff Writer

Rodeo cowboys have body types matching their jobs, just as other sports do.

Watch a baseball team warm up. The kids who seem to walk with so much energy they almost float on air will always gravitate to center field.

In a basketball tournament if a girl is 5-3, moves well and obviously is coordinated when her team takes the floor, she'll be the run running the show from point guard.

I often ask kids how they like the point, first base or the 1600-meter run without even knowing if they do.When I'm correct they're parents often ask me, "How did you know that?"

How did I know that? It's simply recognizing the body type, physique and other physical attributes that lend an athlete to one position over another.

These thoughts came to mind as I covered the Wind River Roundup rodeo on Monday and Tuesday last week at the Fremont County Fair.

As I searched for good vantage points to shoot from, I wandered through staging areas before many of the events. Walking around the east end of the arena where the roping, barrel racing and steer wrestling events begin, I looked for a perch to shoot steer wrestling.

As I walked through the young men warming up for rodeo's most-physical event, I noted that most of them were pretty big,like linebackers on the football field. These, obviously, were the bull-doggers, as we used to call the event. It's steer wrestling these days.

An hour or so later, walking toward the announcer's booth to shoot the night's final event, I walked through the bull riders. They were carefully checking their gear and taping injuries.

No head toppers here, as Shooter said in "Hoosiers" of a shorter team they were about to play. These guys weren't very tall, but their athleticism exuded with every step they took. In other sports they would be the halfbacks, 145-pound wrestlers, pole vaulters, or working the pommel horse and parallel bars with ease in men's gymnastics.

The competitors in the roping events had a bit more variety of body styles, but, as is the case with quarterbacks, decathletes, strong safeties, small forwards and hurdlers, they all had incredible balance, great hand-eye coordination, and a fearless addiction to acceleration.

A track meet at Black Hills State back in the spring of 2008 came to mind as well. Our son Brian was competing for Dickinson State University.As part of his training as a decathlete he often competed in many open events.

Throwing the shot brought a comment from the mother of one of the kids from another university when Brian stepped into the ring, "Look at that little guy throwing the shot," she said. At 6-2 and 190 Brian wasn't exactly tiny, but in comparison to the behemoths who compete in the throwing events he was practically miniscule.

An hour or so later, Brian came around the second curve in the 400-meter hurdles. I heard this comment made by another fan a few rows up as she watched the distance hurdle race: "Look at that huge guy in lane five."

Same kid who just threw the shot, but the competitors around him were much smaller and weighed much less.

It's all a matter of perspective.

Natural selection takes place in the short and long term in nature, but it is true in athletics as well.

When I'm introduced to a big guy I'll watch how he walks and whether he's splay-footed or perhaps a little pigeon-toed. In speaking with the young man, I'll assume he plays the offensive line if he's well over 200 pounds and 6-3 or taller. If he moves well, the assumption is that he probably plays left tackle and spends a bit of time on the defensive line. The big guy who moves well invariably is a low post player in basketball. He probably excels in the discus and is better than average in the shot put.

Parents living vicariously through their children don't like this very much. No matter how much her parents harass the coach, the athletic director and the principal, it won't move little Princess to the front line if she's 5-4 and can't jump. She's playing the back row no matter how whiny or manipulative her parents are.

I stood in a hotel elevator in Fort Wayne, Indiana, a few summers ago as five boys entered. Signs throughout the building welcomed towns from as far away as Virginia, and I assumed a baseball tournament was taking place.

The kids in the elevator changed my mind. A 5-7 black kid entered, followed by a couple of white kids who were 6-1 and about 6-3. A 6-5 black kid and a towering, spindly white boy about 6-8 all joked with each other as the doors closed. It dawned on me: "basketball tournament."

I spoke to the 5-7 kid. "You play the one (another term for point guard)?"

"Yes sir," he said.

I questioned the others and the kids verified it. I correctly placed them in their respective 2,3,4 and 5 positions.

Baseball is similar. Short, quick, great hands -- usually shortstop or third. Blazing speed, and power, and you have an outfielder. If the kid's 5-9 and 220 you can bet your paycheck he's a catcher. The tall kid plays first, and the giant will always be on the mound.

That's just the way it is. Competition thins and shapes the herd in positive ways most of the time. Plow horses don't win the Kentucky Derby, but skittish thoroughbreds are useless in harness, too. It takes all kinds to make a team.

Editor's note: Staff writer Randy Tucker is a retired public school educator.

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