His notorious horseshoe mustache was more of a pencil ’stache in 1979, when Tee Woolman was a student at Southeastern Oklahoma State.
One night he ventured up to the City to watch a perf of the NFR. That’s where the lanky Cherokee/Irish cowboy told Roy Cooper he was thinking of quitting school and turning pro. Roy introduced him to Leo Camarillo.
Leo had already been inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame when 22-year-old Tee – a soon-to-be PRCA rookie – asked him for a chance.
“He told me he’d give it a whirl,” recalls Tee. “He didn’t know what he was getting, for sure.”
Armed with a really good yellow horse called “Doc” that he’d bought from Gary Jacobs, Tee entered the fourth-ever BFI and the last at the hallowed Stampede Grounds in Chowchilla, California, over the 35-foot score, with Leo. Otherwise, the format was the same as today.
The kid and the Hall-of-Famer were high callback. Was Tee nervous for that sixth steer?
“I was pretty full of myself back then, so I wasn’t too nervous about anything,” he says of the run that paid the team $10,000 cash and a trophy two-horse trailer. “They only gave one trailer,” he adds. “I got it.”
That day in Chowchilla, Leo had caught his hand in the dally on their fifth steer and thought he’d cut his thumb off. He refused to take his glove off until after they’d run the last steer.
“When he finally took the glove off, he had a big old groove in his thumb,” recalls Tee. “He was tough, though, you know? He didn’t let things bother him a lot.”
Leo had faith in Tee. As it turned out, their BFI momentum pushed them atop the 1980 world standings, too, and they won the 10-head average in Oklahoma City. Since Tee, then 23, had won an enter-twice end-of-season rodeo with Mike Beers, he won the 1980 gold buckle in his rookie year – beating his own partner. Then in 1982, Tee edged Leo again for the world title by just $129.
“I told him he could go for the gold buckle if he wanted,” Tee recalls. “He chose to rope with me. He wanted to win money.”
Leo once said he’d never met anybody besides Tee that was as confident as he was. And that night in Oklahoma City, Leo said he knew immediately that in addition to that confidence, Tee had the arena intelligence it takes to win.
Win is an understatement. That BFI victory propelled Tee right into the first of 21 straight NFRS as he amassed five average titles, three gold buckles and $2.5 million – just at rodeos. Oh yeah, he’s also in the Southeastern Oklahoma State Rodeo Hall of Fame. But back in 1980, he says they simply expected to win every time they ran a steer.
“It was a lot different,” Tee recalls. “Now, everybody ropes good. Then, a handful of guys roped good, so you just didn’t make mistakes. You didn’t break the barrier and caught your steers and made good runs. The fastest horse spun the fastest steers.”
By: Julie Mankin