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Minister delights in life on the hoof

Cowboy preacher spends most of the year on the road

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RENO, Nev. — Coy Huffman has a lot of irons in the fire when the Reno Rodeo comes around.

He's the rodeo's chute boss, working with stock contractor Cotton Rosser to make sure everything runs smoothly inside the arena.

He's the announcer for the Special Kids' Rodeo, which teams pro cowboys and cowgirls with disabled children to give the kids a chance to experience the sport.

He's the host of the cowboys' autograph party after each of the nine rodeo performances, making sure fans get a chance to meet the top performers on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association circuit.

Then there's his main job — actually his calling. Huffman is a cowboy preacher, and during rodeo week he holds Sunday services at the Reno Livestock Events Center.

Huffman's Cowboy Church services are open to anyone. The congregation usually includes contestants and their families, rodeo fans, committee members, vendors and sponsors.

"It's a big family," he said. "We have a multiplicity of Catholics, Methodists, Baptists, Mormons, everything. It's just a wide section."

His flock comes in all shapes and sizes — some in their Sunday best, some in their scuffed boots and dusty Resistols — but all sharing the common goal of practicing their faith. They sit in the bleachers at the rodeo arena or sit on their horses and gather 'round Huffman as he delivers his sermon.

"I always minister cowboy style," Huffman said. "We keep it pretty much simple — corn bread and beans. But the people love it. They feel comfortable there more than they do in other places because they feel like they belong. God has a place where people fit, and our cowboy church, a lot of people just fit there. That's their world. That's their element."

It is also Huffman's element.

The 61-year-old Kansas native was a rodeo cowboy long before he took to preaching. He earned his contestant card from the PRCA in 1962 and spent the better part of a decade riding broncs and bulls and wrestling steers. He still holds a contestant's card and team ropes from time to time.

In 1980, Huffman and his wife, Donna, founded Pro Rodeo Ministries and Cowboy Church International. Their home base is in Tucson, Ariz., but they spend virtually every weekend on the road at one rodeo or another. Bob Tallman, the longtime Reno Rodeo announcer, has dubbed Huffman "the Roving Reverend."

"I just found out I'm a million-mile flier with United Airlines and that doesn't count the other airlines," Huffman said. "Then there's the motor home. We use that as a mobile base."

On a recent weekend, the Huffmans spent time in Las Vegas for the Copenhagen Cup Finale of the Wrangler Pro Rodeo Tour, performed church services at a rodeo in Livermore, Calif., and another in Glen Avon, Calif., in Southern California. Then they headed for Reno.

The extensive travel is a way of life for the Huffmans, who are met by followers everywhere they go.

"He so unconditionally loves the cowboys, he's been our spiritual leader," said team roper Daniel Green of Oakdale, Calif., who has known Huffman since joining the PRCA circuit in 1991.

Rope Myers of Van, Texas, the second-ranked steer wrestler in the world standings, has developed a close relationship with Huffman through the years.

"I've known Coy since I was just a kid going to rodeos with my dad," said Myers, whose dad is former world champion steer wrestler Butch Myers.

Huffman has helped Myers, team roper Alan Bach and others develop a Bible study group that goes from rodeo to rodeo.

"Coy has been instrumental in helping us and supporting us any way he can," Myers said. "He means a lot to the cowboys."