Johnson lassoes all-star rodeo honor

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

  Calf roper Josh Johnson, a senior at Happy Valley High School, has been named as a co-captain of the Wrangler High School Rodeo All-Star Team in 2002 for a second straight year.
   Making the high school all-star team puts Johnson's name alongside the names of rodeo royalty. Seven-time all-around world champion cowboy Ty Murray, bullriding legend Jim Shoulders and barrel racing champion Charmayne James are just a few of the former members of the rodeo all-star team.
   "It is a real honor," said Johnson. "I'm tickled to death that I got it. You are up against all the people in the Virginia High School rodeo association. That's 60 to 70 contestants to beat out."
   Johnson works as a partner in team roping events with Travis Bowers of Elizabethton. As one would expect, the Carter County tandem enjoys a close working relationship.
   "I like the team roping better than the individual events," said Johnson. "Me and Travis have been roping together for five years now. We started rodeo on the same day. As a team, we have to know what each other is going to do before we do it."
   They practice two to three times a week when weather permits at the Evening Breeze Arena in Stoney Creek or at Travis' home, where they have full access to a rope pin. Rodeo practice isn't like team sports. The participants must take it upon themselves to be disciplined enough to put the time in without being pushed along by coaches.
   "When you practice, you practice working on your skills no matter what the calf does," Josh explained. "No two runs are ever going to be the same. You're just concentrating on trying to make a good run and being consistent. There are sometimes people there when we practice, but sometimes you just have to figure it out on your own.
   "When I'm at a rodeo, I try to watch everybody else and see what time I have to beat. It takes time to become consistent. Sometimes you do it better than others."
   One variable you have to take into account in calf roping is the performance of the animals. To offset one-half of that unknown of how the animals will react, Johnson competes with the same horse that he has worked with since day one.
   "Ninety percent of how you do depends on what calf you draw and the horse you have," said Johnson. "Some of the calves are real antsy in the chute. I haven't figured it out if there is a way of determining in the chute what a certain calf might do.
   "My horse "Buck" is a seven year old quarter horse. I started with him at the same time I started roping. He's progressed a lot faster than I have. You learn that patience is the number one key to working with the horses."
   While there are many differences in rodeo activities compared to stick and ball sports, Johnson says other athletes at Happy Valley show quite an interest in his performances.
   "I like all the ball players," said Johnson. "I'm friends with all the seniors on the football team and all of them on the basketball team. They are always real concerned and they will ask me how I did after I get back from a rodeo."
   Josh isn't however the first HV athlete to enjoy success on the rodeo circuit. Warrior alum William Shoun, who lists winning a nationally televised bullriding event at Mesquite, Texas on his resume, has roped on occasion with Johnson and the two remain good friends.
   When Josh goes to a rodeo watching Shoun and other professional cowboys, he is more than just a casual observer. He studies the different techniques used, especially in the calf roping events.
   "You watch real close how the pros react to different situations," said Johnson. "If a calf does something out of the ordinary, you see what the cowboy has to do to correct it. I also like to listen to the veteran cowboys. They give you a lot of good advice."
   Josh is the only child of Pete and Tina Johnson. Pete works at Snap-On Tools, while Tina works for Valley Trailer Repairs in Jonesborough. For Josh, he is undecided on what he wants to do in the future. The rodeo lifestyle may or may not be a part of his plans.
   "I haven't made up my mind just yet on what I'm going to do," said Johnson about his plans after graduating high school. "If I decide to do this professionally, I want to be like Joe Beaver. He achieved all the goals he set out to do and that's what I want to do. If I do this as a professional, I guess my goals will have to be the National Finals Rodeo. But right now, I'm just doing it for the fun of it."