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story.lead_photo.caption Graham Thomas/Herald-Leader Siloam Springs Rodeo announcer Jeff Lee and his horse and co-star Dusty will be in action this week at the 60th annual Siloam Springs Rodeo.

Jeff Lee learned plenty of lessons about rodeo at a young age growing up in Yell County.

The son of parents who were heavily involved in the sport -- his dad was a saddle bronc rider and his mom a barrel racer -- Lee learned what a rodeo should look like, what it should sound like, what it should feel like and how it should be performed.

"The most important part," he said, "was we need to honor people's money. Because, especially nowadays, there's so many things people can go do. They can go sit in the air conditioning. They can sit (and play) on their phone in the living room and be entertained.

"When they come out here (to the rodeo) and pay money, there should be an entertainment aspect where those people leave here and say 'I'll come back.'"

Rodeo is something Lee takes very seriously, and it's turned into his career.

Lee, a Siloam Springs resident, is a professional rodeo announcer who travels across the country performing at rodeos big and small.

But Lee won't have to travel very far for the next few weeks as he's set to announce the 60th annual Siloam Springs Rodeo this week and then will do the Rodeo of the Ozarks in Springdale later this month. It's his fifth year doing his hometown rodeo and his fourth in Springdale.

For a guy that's traveled as far away as Alaska to announce a rodeo, being able to stay home is a nice change of pace.

"Routinely I'm 10 to 12 hours from home when I perform," Lee said. "To be able to come home for a couple of weeks out of that time period is nice."

Lee has been involved in rodeo all his life, but the last 10 years have seen him dive headfirst into the announcing profession after several years of producing rodeos.

"I found that I could do announcing really well," he said.

Lee said that he works anywhere between 35 to 40 rodeo events a year and stays pretty busy.

After graduating from Arkansas Tech with a degree in agriculture business, Lee moved to Siloam Springs in 2006 to take a job with Simmons Foods in what he said was "probably one of the best-worst experiences of my life."

"Simmons is a great company to work for," he said, "but I was working third shift, nobody spoke my language and there were 130 people working for me and another guy. I learned how to deal with people really quick."

Lee worked for Simmons for only a couple of years, but he loved the area so much he decided to make it his home. He started producing rodeos and Professional Bull Rider events.

He also landed a job at Superior in Siloam Springs doing fleet sales, which gave him the flexibility he needed to pursue announcing rodeo full time.

When longtime Siloam Springs Rodeo announcer Doug Williams retired a few years ago, the Siloam Springs Riding Club struggled to find a replacement before realizing that they had a jewel in Lee right in their own backyard.

"Doug Williams was our announcer for a long, long time and he retired," said Riding Club member Karen Davis. "We had a couple of guys that just weren't fitting right. Then we found Jeff. He was right here, actually. And it worked out really well for him and for us. He's been a big help to us.

"He's the voice of our rodeo now."

Lee's perspective was that in the entertainment industry, it's harder to be considered professional in your home town than it is anywhere else.

"I consider this entertainment," Lee said. "People pay to come see us perform. It's kind of an old saying in our industry, and I think it holds true. 'You're not considered professional unless you're 200 miles from home.' It took people a while to realize that I have the talent to perform here."

It's definitely worked out well for the Riding Club and attendees of the event.

"We feel really fortunate to have him here," Davis said. "He keeps the crowd in it. He helps us in a lot of other ways too. He helps with sponsors, helps with city. He's a good asset to the club and our rodeo."

And Lee doesn't work alone either.

He and his wife, Jerrica, are a team when it comes to announcing.

"She's the one that is playing music, kind of orchestrating setting the tone," Lee said. "If you're watching a movie and you're at a serious part in the movie, you need some music to set that tone. She's a really important part to that. She can help me set the tone for whatever we're doing out there in the arena and she's really good at it."

Jeff and Jerrica Lee have been married for 10 years and have three boys -- Kody, 8; Kolt, 5; and Kord, 1.

"I don't get to work with her everywhere I go, but the rodeos I get to work with her I feel like there's a lot less stress on my mind, because we're kind of in tune on how things should go," he said. "I think I have a real hardcore focus on that entertainment side. Just being around me, I think my wife picked that up as well. I've been really blessed that she has the mindset and the ability to know how a show should flow. We have a lot of pre-production meetings. A lot of people come to me with ideas. My wife is pretty soft-spoken, but if she speaks up it's usually a pretty good idea to listen to her."

And then there's Dusty.

Dusty is Lee's 23-year-old American paint horse and co-star of his announcing gig.

"Dusty's old enough to drink," Lee jokes.

Lee does all of his announcing on horseback on Dusty on the arena floor. Lee said announcing on horseback is something of a declining trend.

"There's fewer and fewer guys that announce horseback just for obvious reasons," he said. "It's easier to get on an airplane and fly to your rodeo and walk up to the announcer stand and do that. Cost wise, the cost to bring me to a show compared to a guy that will walk in, he's got less cost involved. He doesn't have a whole horse trailer and horse to perform with. I think it's not necessarily a dying breed, but you see a lot less guys doing it."

Lee cites legendary local announcers Phil Gardenhire and Danny Newland as role-model announcers.

"I always knew that for me announcing, it was unnatural for me to be in the announcer's stand, because I grew up watching great announcers perform on horseback."

Lee said Dusty's performance is just as important.

"Probably another critical part of me being good is the way he performs out there," Lee said. "That's being calm, cool and collected out in the arena. Literally, we're right in the middle of all this chaos. You think about him being right there, when the bronc riding is going on. I'm right up against the chute, because the stock hunter doesn't necessarily need me out there in the arena. I don't want to get hit by another bucking horse. ... I'm right up there against it and (Dusty) doesn't flinch a bit. For me to sit there and read my paper -- I'm reading my information, and I'm announcing the rodeo -- for me to be able to do that takes a very special horse."

When the Siloam Springs Rodeo is over, Lee will turn his attention to the Rodeo of the Ozarks in Springdale, followed by the International Finals Youth Rodeo in Shawnee, Okla., where there will be 11 performances in six days.

He'll also head out at some point to New Jersey for the longest running weekly rodeo in the United States.

"Usually that happens from May to September, and I go up there frequently throughout the summer to announce," he said. "I've been pretty fortunate to have a career to stay busy in. Most guys don't have that luxury of being busy all year long. I have slow periods, but I've been very blessed over the last several years being able to do the events that I do."

Lee feels extremely fortunate to be doing his hometown Siloam Springs Rodeo.

"The one thing about this rodeo," he said. "I'll do a lot of big rodeos and I'll do a lot of small rodeos. I see it every weekend. I see good ones and I see bad ones. The one thing Siloam has going for it is they care. To have a core group of people out here, they're here putting in months of preparation getting ready for this event. And to see the crowd that comes out here, that's kind of a tell-tale sign. You see some places keep having a rodeo, but there may only be 200 to 300 people there in the grandstand. That's not fun for me. I'd rather announce for a packed house like anybody would like to perform in front of the most people they can.

"This rodeo's fun. The crowd comes out every night. I know a lot of people that are around here, but there's a lot of people don't know who I am. A lot of people don't even know I'm from Siloam. It's just fun to come here and see this rodeo continue on. Sixty years is probably one of the oldest traditions and continuously running events that this town has."

Sports on 06/13/2018

Print Headline: 'The voice of our rodeo'

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