Jess Harris

Jess Harris poses on the front deck of his home near Oral as he displays the saddle and buckle he won at the Reno Rodeo Invitational Team Roping on June 23. Also pictured is a trophy that his horse Puddin’ earned after being named the “High Money Heel Horse” by the American Quarter Horse Association.

Local cowboy wins $100,000 in the ‘Super Bowl’ of amateur team roping

ORAL - In the roping arena, the Reno Rodeo Invitational Team Roping is known as the “wildest, richest, handicapped amateur team roping in the world,” where $1 million is awarded in just a single day of competition.

To Jess Harris of Oral, and the 397 other team ropers who competed in the event last month, the day represents the ”Super Bowl” of their sport and the opportunity to have a near-lifetime of dreams fulfilled in only a few short hours.

Harris had attempted to compete in the event for the past four years, but due to the Invitational’s strict handicap rules, he was not allowed to participate and had his entry fees returned each year.

But this year, when his registration was finally accepted and he was allowed to compete on June 23 in Reno, the only money returned to his address near Oral was his half of the $200,000 in winnings he took home after he and his partner, Scott Leach of Glendo, Wyo., took the top honors.

Looking back at the experience recently, Harris was still a bit in awe of what he had accomplished.

“After all the hard work and dedication that you put into something like this; you have to believe that it’s going to eventually pay off,” he said. “You just keep working at it to keep the dream alive, and then to have it all come true in just four steers!? It was the craziest experience of my life.”

His experience in Reno however did not start out like he and his roping partner had hoped. While they did catch their steer in the First Go – with Leach as the header and Harris as the heeler – it was only after they had chased it down the entire length of the arena for a time of 14.9, which put them well behind many of the other 198 teams competing.

In their Second Go, Harris and Leach more than cut that time in half with a quick head-and-heel in 6.99 seconds which put them right back into the thick of the race. Their time in the Third Go of 7.75 seconds solidified them as legitimate contenders and put them into the fourth and final Short Go.

As the first few teams began to fire out of the chutes but ultimately end their runs with empty ropes and no times to start the Short Go, Harris said the pressure on them began to mount. At this point, while they knew they were definitely in for some serious money, the thought of actually coming away with the $200,000 top prize was starting to sink in.

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“I remember bending over, looking down at the dirt and putting my hands on my knees and my hands slipping right off,” Harris said, as he recalled the anticipation while getting ready for their final run.

Needing a time of at least 10.29 seconds to take the lead in the average, Harris and Leach took their positions.

“In that moment, it boils down to muscle memory and reflex,” he added. “It’s you against the steer.”

Their time – 8.06 seconds!

Harris and Leach ultimately won the whole shooting match with a time of 37.7 seconds (9.425 avg), followed by the team of Jeremy Eaton and David Eaton of Benton City, Wash., with a time of 39.94 (9.985 avg). First place paid $100,000 to each member of the two-person team, while second place provided $62,500 each. Another local cowboy, Hardy White, formerly of Oelrichs and now from Torrington, Wyo., also made some money in the event, as he and his partner Steve Hanson split $10,000 for their 13th place finish (53.52 seconds).

The win for Harris at the Reno Rodeo Invitational Team Roping – also known as the Perry Diloreto Invitational, named after the event’s producer – was a goal he had set out to achieve many years ago, he said.

Like many young ranch-family boys, Harris started out roping at a young age while growing up in the Southern Hills. His dad Mike Harris recalled taking Jess to the world renowned Walt Woodard Team Roping School at Hart Ranch when he was just 12-years-old. Mike said even then, when Jess was competing against much older participants in the school, he could hold his own and showed much promise.

Jess, a 1993 graduate of Hot Springs High School, said he got away from the sport for a number of years, but ultimately came back to it again in 2005. “I wanted to get back into doing what I always enjoyed doing,” he recalled.

His wife Tabitha (Sigman) – a Sturgis-Brown High School graduate and 2004 collegiate national champion in goat tying from SDSU – is very supportive of his roping and travels along and competes at many of the same events. “She likes to go as much, or more than than I do,” Jess chuckled.

After winning the RRITR, neither Harris nor Leach are allowed to compete in the event again. So with his top-goal as a team roper now accomplished, Harris is unsure what he will next set his sights upon. This big win however has certainly added more fuel to his passion for the sport which could help lead him well beyond anything he had ever imagined previously.

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