Odessa College Rodeo Coach Tom Kelly finding his niche

Photo Credit: Odessa American
Photo Credit: Odessa American

Over the years, Odessa College rodeo coach said he's helped a lot of youngsters achieve their dreams. Now he's continuing that mission with students in the Permian Basin.

Kelly said he and his wife, Carrie, have rodeo in their blood. He was in roughstock, saddlebronc riding, bareback riding, bullriding and a little bit of team roping. But he had quite a few injuries.

Carrie Kelly ran barrels, tied goats and participated in breakaway roping. Now she helps coach and trains the students.

Before coming to OC, Tom Kelly was at Laramie County Community College in Wyoming where he was the interim rodeo coach, taught equine classes and took care of the livestock.

Raised in South Dakota, Kelly said he and his wife have lived between Wyoming and Montana ever since they got married when he was 17 and she was 18.  Kelly earned an associate degree in equine management from Western Dakota Technical Institute in Rapid City, S.D.

He said has been coaching off and on all his life.

"… Unofficially, I've helped kids improve themselves and become better in the arena for forever. Then I was interim coach at LCCC in Cheyenne," Kelly said.

"I enjoy helping kids improve and … achieve their dreams and goals in and out of the arena," he added.

Kelly said coming to Odessa College was a "God thing.  "The couple knew it was time to leave Wyoming, so Tom put his name in the hat for the rodeo coaching job and he got it. The couple has five children and two grandchildren.

Their oldest child, Tracie, is developmentally disabled and needs constant supervision.  Kelly said Tracie, 27, is usually out cheering on the rodeo team. Three older children went to college on rodeo scholarships and the youngest is being recruited heavily.

Kelly said he knew OC had a prestigious rodeo program. When you walk down the hall of the classroom building, you can see photos of champions from 30 years ago.  "It was just something that I really wanted to be part of," he said.

"I've helped a lot of kids along the way achieve their dreams. I didn't get to go down the road as much as I wanted to when I was younger because I was married at 17 and had three kids by the time I was 20. So we've just focused a lot on our kids and the other kids that have come along. It's in our blood; it's something we've always done," Kelly said.

He added that this year's team, while small at about 20 members, is one of the hardest working and most dedicated he's seen in a long time.

"I'm very proud of each and every one of them," Kelly said.  He added that he expects the team to grow next year because he's already recruiting.

With the smaller squad, Kelly said everyone helps each other.  "We're building a very strong team. We really are. Each and every single one of these kids cares for each other. That's where teamwork begins," he added.

He said there are students in every event. The secret ingredient to success is having desire.

"I say a lot to my kids and kids that I've coached along the way: 'I can give you all the tools in the world. I can show you and give you the mechanics and how to ride a bucking horse, but I can't put the heart that beats in your chest. That's got to come from you.' If you've got heart and if you've got try, you can be a rodeo contestant. But if you don't, you (can) just as well stay home," Kelly said.

He added that the off-season is November through February, but letting up isn't really an option.  "There's no sense in letting yourself get rusty because the most important rodeo is the next one," Kelly said.

Wyatt Johnson, a third-year student at OC, is a bareback rider. He said his step father introduced him to rodeo. He started riding bareback horses and bulls in high school in Payson, Utah.

"It's one of the coolest feelings to be on a bucking horse when you're both in timing and the horse is bucking and you're both clicked together in the ride to make it a pretty ride. It's pretty to watch and it's pretty to feel," Johnson said.

He added that Kelly is an "awesome" leader.  "I feel like he's brought this team together a little bit more," Johnson said.

Johnson was recently injured when he popped over the front of a horse, went under him and had the horse step on his face and chest.  But Johnson wasn't discouraged. He said rodeoing is all mental games. You convince yourself that the horse is a "wuss" and if you get bucked off, you try again another day.

"Honestly, I just don't think about. I'm already ahead of myself like this is going to be awesome. Just keep positive. … The only thing holding you down is your head," Johnson said.

Timmi Hutchings, in her third year at OC, has been rodeoing her whole life. Her whole family is involved in the sport. Her brother, Tristen Hutchings, is on the rodeo team, as well.  She runs barrels, ties goats and participates in breakaway roping.

Hutchings said she loved the previous coach, C.J. Aragon, who is now at Sul Ross State University, but she kept an open mind about Kelly to find out what he had to offer.  "It's probably one of the better things that could have happened. He's helped us out a bunch. He's supportive; he's done a lot for our school. He's there to help (at) every practice. He's there to encourage you. He always has something positive to say," Hutchings said.

She added that what she likes about rodeo is winning.  "If you go to rodeos and you aren't there to win and put 110 percent in, I don't know why you're there," Hutchings said.

Her goal for this college season is to make the College National Finals Rodeo.  Hutchings said she came to OC because she knew some people there and they enjoyed it.

"I talked to C.J. my senior year. Then I came down in March before my freshman year. I looked at it and loved it. The facility here is great. … I love this place. I wouldn't come back for a third year if I didn't really like it," she added

Article by Ruth Campbell: Odessa American 
Photo Credit: Odessa American