ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – It’s not just the broncs and the bulls that make the Texas State High School Finals Rodeo (THSRA Finals Rodeo) exciting, but add to it; the loud, thumping music and the booming voice coming from the announcer’s stand that bring the energy after an impressive ride.
When you first walk onto the Taylor County Expo Center grounds, you’ll see dust getting stirred up, the clopping of horse’s hooves and the sounds of lassos wrapping around a roping dummy.
But as you enter the Taylor Telecom Arena or the Guitar Arena, aside from music blaring, you’ll hear the deep, southern drawl coming from the announcer’s stand.
For frequent visitors of the THSRA Finals Rodeo in Abilene, it’s the familiar voice of Chris Rankin, listing of competitor’s stats, bios and when they need a pick-me-up, a “c’mon, lets go.”
The Southeast Texas native never imagined he’d be on the announcer’s stand growing up. In fact, he said as a teenager, he’d have rather be in the arena. His dream of riding bucking bulls was where his heart lied, but quickly came to an end as he entered his twenties.
Rankin needed to be around the arena, occasionally helping a local stock contractor with weekend jackpot rodeos. While he was away from riding, the usually shy Rankin knew how to talk trash with other riders and his peers.
“I was pretty good at trash-talking,” Rankin said.
However, it was his smack-talk that landed him in the announcer’s chair for the first time, after the usual weekend announcer didn’t show up for that same rodeo.
“Some buddies of mine talked me into picking up the microphone, and it just kind of stuck- totally as a joke,” Rankin said.
Little did he know, that was only the beginning of a 22-year and counting career as a rodeo announcer.
As of 2022, Rankin has called everything from high school to professional rodeos with the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), as well as with the Professional Bull Riders (PBR). Since the start of his career in 2000, he has also been named Announcer of the Year six times (2004-2008, 2018).
17 of those 22 years calling rodeo has been with the THSRA. Rankin said he’s often asked why he chooses to call high schoolers- along with the professionals, and this was his response:
“I come because it gives me a shot to see these kids before their names are known. Getting to see the future is just as special as announcing a world champion, in my opinion, because this is the future. These are the future world champions.”
No doubt in 17 years, Rankin has seen some incredible talent come through the high school ranks. Just to name a few, Rankin said he remembers seeing:
- Tuf Cooper, three-time World Champion and Decatur-native
- Marty Yates, NFR qualifier and Stephenville-native
- Sage Kimzey, seven-time PRCA World Champion bull rider and Salado-native
Rankin said he loves the sport at both levels equally, but said getting to see those future stars of the sport is unlike anything he has ever done, and said he still sees something new every time he takes the stand:
“Like today, we had a 19.390 (seconds) in the pole bending, which is unheard of, and the fastest time I’ve ever personally seen!”
That’s the positivity and the beauty to high school rodeo, according to Rankin. You never know what you’re going to get, and they are driven to be the best at this level, the collegiate level and try to reach the professional circuit.
Just by the competition he has seen this week, Rankin firmly believes some of the kids riding in the Taylor Telecom Arena could hear him call their name at the sport’s highest level.
“It’s a pretty cool feat when I can look back and say, I remember when he was just in high school,” Rankin chimed.
Rankin said this was the first year he incorporated music throughout each event. He said his goal is to bring a high energy, high excitement competition and atmosphere for both the competitors and spectators alike.