Jerome Schneeberger had a feeling about the calf lining up to his left.
And just as he was about to start, the arena announcer said someone had already won the calf roping event in which he was competing in the final round of the Days of '47 Rodeo at the Delta Center Tuesday afternoon.
"I thought, 'Oh, well, he's either making a prediction, or I'm just going to surprise him,' " said the cowboy from Ponca City, Okla., who won the first round of the same event.
So Schneeberger, one of the top five calf ropers in the country, sat up high on his horse and nodded his hat at the gentleman working the gate. After a flurry of running and roping, he stood up with a time of 8.4 seconds. Not the fastest of the night, but fast enough to make him the overall winner of the entire rodeo with a 16.1 score.
"I thought that calf was a good one," he said. "I was just hoping."
Schneeberger said calf roping is the only thing he's wanted to do since he was a boy growing up on a farm. His sister competed in rodeos, and his parents really impressed how much they wanted him to do it.
"They just love it," he said.
Athlete cowboys like Schneeberger may seem a dying breed in a world where technology seems to be taking over everyone's interests. But he believes the sport that dates back before cars and computers is here to stay.
"There are too many country folk out there," he said. "It's all anybody does in Texas or Oklahoma."
No one feels the pressure of making a historic sport interesting more than Days of '47 Rodeo committee chairman Brad Harmon. He said this year's committee made some changes, did some modernizing and as a result put on the best rodeo yet.
"I think it was great, absolutely better (than last year)," he said.
From new chutes to a new logo and a new event — mini-bull riding for mini-cowboys ages 7-15 — Harmon said the event was a success.
"I don't know what we could have done better," he said. "And we're already planning next year."
The only area that troubled him at all was that attendance has remained the same for the last several years — about 50,000 over the course of the rodeo's six performances. But Monday night's crowd did set a record at more than 13,000 fans. It was one of two discount nights, but the other was attended by about 5,000 people.
Harmon took over after his father, Flip Harmon, the chairman for three decades, passed away in 1997. Like many of those who compete, he grew up around rodeo. He finds it a little sad that the country might "lose track of our western heritage" as cities seem ever expanding everywhere. But he points to television coverage as the silver lining to any dark cloud.
"There is more rodeo on television than ever," he said.
Both TNN and ESPN2 have regularly televised rodeo events, and the latter network focuses on smaller rodeos like Oakley and Vernal.
In addition to battling an outdated image, there are those who believe rodeo is cruel to the animals it needs to compete. A dozen or so gathered outside the Delta Center Tuesday, and two of them were arrested when they tried to block a driveway that allowed cowboys in and out of the arena. They also handed out flyers lamenting the woes of rodeo competition.
The Pro Rodeo Association now responds to every single animal cruelty or neglect complaint on its web site. And most cowboys have become advocates for their sport, whether they want to or not. Schneeberger recently had several telephone conversations with a man who wrote a letter to a local paper criticizing his event of calf roping.
"I called him and the first time he hung up on me," he said. "The second time, I talked to him probably 30 minutes."
His conclusion is that most of rodeo's critics just "don't understand" the sport. That doesn't matter to most rodeo officials who are trying to expose more people at a younger age in hopes of continuing the competitions.
"I'll figure out how to get some more folks here (next year)," Harmon said. "Maybe I'll take a look at our dates and see what we compete with."
This year's competition used animals from three contractors instead of just one, and the scores were higher as a result. Canadian Ronnie Bell set a bull-riding record for the Days of '47 with a 91-point score on Friday. He hung on to win the overall, with Lee Akin of Oklahoma coming in second with a 90.
In Tuesday's other events:
Bareback riding: tie, Scott Johnson, Gustine, Texas, and J.C. Call, Howell, Utah, with 79 points.
Steer wrestling: Chad Hagan, Leesville, La., with 4.1 seconds.
Barrel racing: Danyelle Campbell, Washington, Utah, with 13.95 seconds.
Saddle bronc riding: Joe F. Slagowski, Carlin, Nev., with 88 points.
Bull riding: Greg Whitlow, Langdon, Alberta, Canada, with 81 points.