LOVINGTON, N.M. – For Clint Cooper, it’s very simple.
“Even though I was born in Texas, I’m a Lea County boy,” said Cooper, a four-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifier who graduated from Lovington High School. “I think it’s more than Jake McClure’s arena. I know my dad and my uncles all roped in that arena, and I’ve been blessed to have roped in that arena, so there’s a lot of history there in Lovington. It’s awesome.”
Cooper will return to his roots for the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, set for 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 8-Saturday, Aug. 11 at Jake McClure Arena. He is one of the elite tie-down ropers in the game, just like McClure in the 1930s and his father, Roy “Super Looper” Cooper, in the 1980s.
You see, rodeo is a big deal in the Cooper family, from his grandfather, Tuffy, to his father, an eight-time world titlist, to his half-brothers, Clif and Tuf, both NFR qualifiers – in fact, Tuf is the reigning world champion tie-down roper. There are also cousins who have excelled in the sport, and they, too, make Lea County their homes – world champion Jimmie Cooper and his twin sons, Jim Ross and Jake; all three have played on the biggest stage in the sport, the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo.
“It’s great if you love it, and I love it,” Clint Cooper said. “It’s got lots of ups and downs, especially with the traveling, but I’m fortunate to have my family on the road with me.”
He’s talking about his wife, the former Amber Rodie, and their sons, Casen, 4, and Canden, 10 months. Amber, too, is from Lovington, and her father, Don Rodie, was a longtime football coach at Lovington High School. He is now coaching in Jacksboro, Texas, near Clint and Amber’s home in Decatur, Texas.
“It’s awesome to come back to your roots,” Clint said, referring to the annual fair and rodeo that has driven nearly 100,000 people to the community of about 10,000 in just 10 August days in 2011. “All the people’s support is great. It’s just like any time, you get to come back and see people you know. For me, I get to visit with my grandparents there, my mom and my stepdad. It’s good to see everybody in the family.”
It’s also a time he gets to reflect on the local support he receives, and it’s not just family. Tate Branch Dodge Chrysler Jeep in Hobbs, N.M., provides him vehicle needs to chase his rodeo dreams, while McVay Drilling has been a major piece of the puzzle to help with all the expenses that come down the rodeo trail.
“Even though I’m from there and go all over the world, that’s where my biggest supporters are right there in Lea County,” he said. “They’ve believed in me from the start.”
The son of a rodeo legend, Clint Cooper’s got his start at birth in January 1982. Over the course of his career, Cooper has had plenty of supporters, from sponsors or even those who supported him through youth rodeo and high school basketball.
“I think Clint brings great rodeo tradition to our rodeo,” said Dean Jackson, chairman of the Lea County Fair Board. “When you think of the Coopers, you think of Tuffy and Betty Gale, but Clint did graduate from Lovington, and his mom still lives in Hobbs. Everybody wants to see the hometown boy do good.
“I’m happy for Tuf and Clif, but when Clint wins a rodeo, it means a little more.”
That sentiment can be found all over Lea County.
“He follows the Cooper family tradition,” said Greg Massey, the chairman of the rodeo committee. “It goes back to his granddad, Tuffy Cooper. The Cooper family has been known for their talent in roping, and the county’s honored to have them part of our legacy. We’re very proud that they come back to Lea County and compete every year.”
That’s almost a given for Cooper and his brothers. While it’s home, Lovington also is a hot destination for ProRodeo’s top contestants. The Lea County Fair and Rodeo is part of the Wrangler Million Dollar Tour, so it’s a big stop for the sport’s greatest stars.
“It’s awesome that it’s a big rodeo,” Clint Cooper said. “It’s always been a big rodeo and an honor to Jake McClure. But especially now, everybody’s going to be there. Now that it’s a tour rodeo, it’s awesome.
“I’ve been there every year since I could go to it, and to see how much it’s grown since 2009 when it joined the tour, with the concerts and the people they’re attracting there, it’s crazy. The people aren’t just coming from right around there; they’re coming from all over.”
It’s quite a reflection of the people of Lea County, especially those who volunteer their time to benefit the fair and rodeo.
“My family members have been on the board for years, and I know everybody on the board and the sacrifices they’ve gone through to do this for us,” Cooper said. “We’ve always had a carnival there, but now we’ve got the concerts of this magnitude coming it. Everything’s just bigger and better than it’s ever been.
“It’s so much more than you’d think, and it’s harder than you think. They’ve done a great job for Lea County.”