Pryor, Okla., is a long way from Ohio, but a young man who lives there has ties to Tiffin and Seneca County. A high school senior, Garrett Yerigan has made a name for himself as the world's youngest professional rodeo announcer. Although he has never competed in a rodeo, he has been the subject of numerous newspaper and magazine articles.
"I did my first professional-sanctioned rodeo when I was 12 in Butler, Mo. That was six years ago now," Yerigan said in a phone interview. "A lot of people asked me if I was going to follow in my parents' footsteps."
His mother, Kathy Ink Yerigan, grew up in Republic and graduated from Seneca East High School. As a youth, Kathy took after her mother, Barbara Ink, and started barrel racing at age 9 or 10. Kathy remembers doing exhibition races at the Ohio State Fairgrounds in Columbus. Kathy's dad, the late Robert Ink, also had competed and judged rodeo events.
"My grandpa from that side of the family was big into rodeo and was a world-champion bareback bronco rider. Her mom was a barrel racer. They met on the rodeo trail, as well. Of course, my mom and her sisters got into it, naturally," Garrett said.
Rodeo introduced Kathy to her husband, Dale Yerigan, a steer wrestler. Dale said he got to know his father-in-law before he ever met Kathy. When they married in 1988, Kathy relocated to Oklahoma with Dale. The couple continued to compete, with Kathy taking a hiatus while pregnant with Garrett.
"We were traveling a lot then. I think he was about two weeks old when he went to his first rodeo." Dale said. "It just kept on going from there."
Even before he could read, Garrett had a knack for remembering names and rodeo jargon. At age 6 or 7, he started announcing during the "slack" between actual events. He played Little League sports but preferred to watch rodeo rather than to compete himself. Although he liked riding horses, exercising his mount was not a priority.
"At first, I was disappointed that he didn't want to compete," Kathy said. "He said it was too boring to ride around in circles. So when he was riding with me, he had his own rodeo."
Garrett attended many rodeos while his parents were still competing. Kathy continues to run barrels when she can fit it into her work schedule. A former 11-time world champion steer roper, Dale is retired from competition. Now, he attends many events as general manager of the International Pro Rodeo Association, based in Oklahoma City.
"The announcer was always something that caught my eye and looked like a lot of fun. You get to communicate with thousands of people and have fun with the different types of crowds." Garrett said.
The job also was attractive because he could collect a paycheck and be part of the pageantry without threat of injury.
A rodeo mantra says, "It's not a matter of when you get hurt, it's how bad." Garrett said most rodeo fans do not realize injuries can be devastating to a competitor.
"There's no multi-million dollar contracts like there is in the NFL and the NBA," he said. "In our sport, if you're not competing, you're not getting paid. The more time you're out, from an injury, that's more time you're away from money."
When the announcing invitations kept coming for Garrett, his parents arranged to drive him to various locations. Garrett said the job really took off when he was in seventh grade, as if someone had "flipped a switch." They had to make special arrangements with the school system.
"My junior-high principal was a rancher, and he understood the lifestyle of the Western way of life. He was a big rodeo fan and was in amazement that he had a radio announcer as one of his students," Garrett said.
As long as Garrett kept up on his grades and stayed out of trouble, the principal would excuse him from school. Garrett also needed to present a letter from the place where he was to work. Upon entering grade 10, Garrett wondered how the new administration might react to his work schedule. The junior-high principal said he would inform the high school about the arrangements that had been made.
"My superintendent, he's a very cool guy He's kind of a fan himself," Garrett said.
In 2007, Garrett started his own company, Lightning G Announcing and Sound. The business grew until he was doing video, lighting, special effects (such as lasers and pyrotechnics) and ground work. In 2011, he rebranded as Lightning G Productions to encompass all aspects of rodeo production.
"I enjoyed my rodeo career tremendously and I'm still involved in rodeo," Dale said. "It doesn't hurt my feelings that he's found a way to be involved in rodeo but with less risk and danger than competing."
Garrett works about 40 weekends a year at locations in Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Iowa and Ontario, Canada. He is not afraid to work solo, but when his parents are available, they go along to help out. Kathy said she usually helps to pack and unpack or serves as a "go-fer." Dale and Garrett do the heaviest work setting up speakers and hanging banners. Sometimes Dale runs the music while Garrett is announcing.
"As we slowed down competing, he got more into the announcing and sound business. Now, I spend more time going with him than he does going with me," Dale said. "It's nice to do something with the family and get to travel some together."
Although the summer months are the busiest for rodeo, Garrett gets calls year-round. He said he usually is booked solid from the first weekend in March to the end of November. In the winter months, the contests move indoors. Garrett said the winter events tend to be more elaborate. Indoor venues allow for more entertainment options because electricity is accessible and the weather is not a factor.
In-ear monitors help Garrett to keep up with the action, and wireless microphones make it possible to announce from any location in the arena. Garrett often does the announcing on horseback, which allows him to make a quick exit at the start of an event. He said being in the arena also helps him relate to the crowd by letting them connect his face with the voice they are hearing.
"I enjoy it because you get to be out in the open and it makes me feel more involved in the rodeo also, because I'm down there and can be more hands-on with what's going on. A lot of times, it can make communication easier they can give you a list of the order, but if something happens - a horse squats in the chute or something - it's a lot easier if you're right there and they can say 'We're going to go to this horse instead.'"
When there is a lull in rodeo action, Garrett fills in with background information on the competitors, statistics, rules, historical tidbits, jokes and a list of coming events. He pays attention to audience response in choosing appropriate tunes, which are not limited to country music. When he is not working, he collects and edits special effects and obtains the most recent music to use at his events. He also maintains his website.
Of course, he also must find time for his school subjects and events. Kathy said she would like Garrett to earn a college degree as a "plan B" to use if rodeo should lose its appeal, if he needs to cut back on travel to have a family or if his voice gives out.
"I'm willing to let him do online classes ... but I would like him to have something to fall back on," Kathy said.
Garrett admits he has given some thought to college, but he doesn't need a degree to do his job. He fears technology would leave him behind and event managers would forget about him if he took four years away to be a student. The online courses seem to offer the most flexibility, he said.
Because of their busy schedules and six horses to care for, the Yerigans do not get to Ohio very often. Kathy was in the area last summer for a wedding, but she doesn't get home often. Her mom, now retired from Seneca East Schools, lives nearby in Oklahoma. Kathy's aunt, Joyce Dysard, and many school friends still live in Republic.