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Learning from a champion: 8-time NFR champ Joe Beaver teaches ropers in Bowman

Press Photo by Meaghan MacDonald Eight-time National Finals Rodeo champion Joe Beaver, left, talks with Sierra Lee of Rhame during the fifth annual Joe Beaver roping clinic on Saturday at the Bowman County Fairgrounds All Seasons Indoor Arena.1 / 2
Press Photo by Meaghan MacDonald2 / 2

BOWMAN — It’s not every day that athletes attend a sport clinic coached by a professional.

But ropers from around the country have flocked this week to the Bowman County Fairgrounds to be critiqued and molded into better athletes by a true rodeo legend, eight-time National Finals Rodeo champion Joe Beaver.

The Beaver roping clinic has been helping ropers of all ages and talent move up to another level of competition for the past 20 years. This is the fifth year the clinic has been held in North Dakota — the past four years have been in Bismarck — and Beaver works individually with each participant.

“It’s seeing how the kids come back year after year and they improve, and what they get out of rodeo,” Beaver said. “There’s guys making the national finals that I’ve had in my clinics, there’s kids in the college finals, winning it and sending me texts and stuff about, ‘I won the college finals,’ or ‘I won the high school finals.’ And that’s the reward of it.”

The Victoria, Texas, native became a member of the PRCA in 1985, the same year he won his first world championship. Beaver has won eight titles — three all-around cowboy championships and five tie-down roping titles — is the PRCA all-time career earnings leader and was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 2000.

Beaver started putting together clinics in the latter part of his career to have something lined up for life after rodeo. He started doing about four or five clinics a year and gradually increased to 10. He now does 25.

They aren’t limited to the United States either. Beaver hosts clinics all over the world, including Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, the Dominican Republic and Canada. Beaver said the clinics aren’t just to help strengthen roping skills. He understands it’s a path to help these kids move on in life to greater things — like a college scholarship or a professional career.

‘It’s been an adventure and fun to see where it’s taken me, and it’s all because of a rope,” Beaver said. “When I started out, I didn’t have much and it’s fun to see the kids go. Last year, I actually roped at the national finals and had three of my clinic guys roping with me which was pretty fun.”

The clinics first came to North Dakota thanks in part to Wes Wickum, whose children, Dillon and Shausta, attended Dickinson State and have been roping professionally for years.

Wickum is in charge of most areas of the clinics from advertising to finances, and he wanted a clinic for ropers with a well-known, seasoned roper at the helm.

Wickum said Beaver is the perfect instructor because of his ability to relate to anyone, despite their talent level at roping.

“Joe is really a unique individual, he just seems to have the ability to relate to anybody at any level and he’ll take them to the next level that they want to go to,” Wickum said. “He’s just remarkable with communication and with his people skills, and I think that makes him different between him and some of the other folks that put on clinics.”

Beaver’s clinics have a 74 percent return rate and average about 20 to 25 ropers each for breakaway roping and tie-down roping.

The Bismarck event was getting so popular, Wickum said, that it needed to move to a larger space.

Bowman, home to the state high school finals, welcomed the clinic with open arms to use its indoor fairgrounds facility and received help from local ranchers to help supply cattle. The change in location has been a hit and continues to draw people across the state and country, like 17-year-old roper Jordan Staton from Fargo.

This is Staton’s fourth straight clinic and finds the traveling and expenses completely worth it.

“If you come here, you definitely have an advantage over anybody else who didn’t come because it’s just the experience and the learning is insane,” he said.

While there are several returners to the clinic, there are also some newcomers.

Mandan native and Black Hills State (S.D.) rodeo contestant Madison Huber had been to clinics before, but never to Beaver’s.

Huber is using the early practice to prepare her for the beginning of the college season, but one of her biggest decisions for attending was the caliber of the instructor.

“He breaks it down to an individual basis,” she said. “He asks us and picks us out and makes sure we know what we’re doing wrong. It’s not that he can pick it out, he wants you to be aware of what you’re doing and you know what you need to do to correct it.”

Out of all the places Beaver has taught, he called North Dakota rodeo athletes a unique case.

While most athletes in the south, like Texas, can compete and train outside year-round, North Dakota, as well as surrounding states, is forced to train in seasons due to the harsh winters.

Despite the lack of time and — in some cases — indoor facilities, the North Dakota ropers are dedicated to their sport and brace the conditions to become better.

“You have to want it because if you don’t, you’re not going to get out when it’s 20 below to feed your calves and steers and your horses and practice when it’s 18 degrees and snowing,” Beaver said. “You got to really want it.”

After retiring from rodeo, Beaver said he doesn’t miss competing at all.

Besides the clinics, he has given TV broadcasting a shot and commentates several events like the NFR.

After experiencing the highs and lows of life, Beaver said he has learned to deal with everything and to keep pushing forward and living for his passion of inspiring young ropers.

“I got it as good as you can ask for,” he said with a smile. “It’s kind of like the movie, it’s ‘as good as it gets.’”

Meaghan MacDonald

Meaghan is the sports page designer and copy editor for the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.  After graduating from James Madison University (Va.) in May 2013, she moved from New Jersey to North Dakota to start pursuing her career in sports journalism and was a sports reporter for the Dickinson Press and covered Dickinson State athletics. Meaghan has been working for the Forum since June 2015.