Man Behind the Mike

Writer Mike Blackwell visits with Hadley Barrett, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys of America's 2002 Announcer of the Year.
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Writer Mike Blackwell visits with Hadley Barrett, the Professional Rodeo Cowboys of America's 2002 Announcer of the Year.

The golf cart was pointing up from the bottom of the ramp that led into San Antonio's posh SBC Center, and Hadley Barrett's boot was flat on the floor. In an instant, the 2002 PRCA Announcer of the Year was at the top of the ramp, through the gate and into the crowd, the cart swallowed by a sea of kids, cowboys hats and barbecue pit smoke.

Home sweet home.
"Thanks for coming, Hadley," a man says as he sees Barrett snaking his way through the throng toward his travel trailer in between performances of the San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo.

"Oh, no, thank you for having me," Barrett says with the voice that has sifted through the rafters of rodeo arenas for years.

This is the life of Hadley Barrett, a life on the road with the people he loves. The feeling is mutual, of course. It's a life he wouldn't give up for a million bucks or even a good horse, a life that began at a rodeo in Arnold, Nebraska, a life that'll keep the boy in you long after you've become a man.

A life well-lived.
"We have such a neighborhood of people in the rodeo business," said Barrett between drinks of bottled water in his motor home. "A normal person would have a neighbor in the back yard that he would speak to and know the children's ages and names, which is normal. We do that in rodeo, only our back yard is all over the country."

Barrett uses the words "neighbor" and "family" plenty when he talks of his life. And one of the most memorable moments of his life came in December 2002 at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo when he was named PRCA Announcer of the Year for the fourth time in his career, the first since 1989.

"Lee (Barrett's wife) and I talked about that awards banquet and said, 'Let's relax and get a bottle of wine for the table at dinner and really enjoy ourselves,'" Barrett remembers.

"(Announcers) Bob Tallman and Randy Corley ended up at our table and I was saying that Tallman was going to get it and Lee was saying Randy's going to win.

"We were joking about it and then at the last minute I said, 'You know, it might be time for Boyd (Polhamus) to win.'"

Seconds later Barrett's name was called, and the crowd at the Riviera Hotel & Casino exploded to its feet.

While Barrett walked to the stage to accept his award a man scrambled to the area in front of the stage with a small camera, determined to get the best view of Barrett's acceptance speech.

It was Tallman.
"That was great," Barrett says, still shaking his head in wonder at the emotional event. "We absolutely weren't ready for that."

Barrett's night in Las Vegas was especially emotional because he introduced the crowd to his youngest daughter, a beautiful 2-year-old girl adopted by the Barretts before the Wrangler NFR. His voice shaking, he produced a picture from his wallet, an act that spilled more than a few tears.

"Her name is Taleah, but I started calling her Maggie Mae, and it's been abbreviated to Mag," Barrett said. "She'll probably kill me for this one of these days. Frequently I've said to Lee, 'You know, I really need to quit doing that, because she won't want that name one of these days.'

"Now she's been to so many rodeos and stuff, and people know her as Mag, so I'm afraid it's too late to do anything about it."

Barrett has six children total, and all have filled him with more than a little pride. He has a son (Trent) and two daughters (Michelle and Kim), as well as a stepson (Travas) and stepdaughter (Katie). These days he spends time not only on the announcer's stands across the country but also at his Kersey, CO, ranch where he works in his shop, raises Paint horses and has begun to dabble in the dog world of European white retrievers.

All with Lee at his side, of course. Ask Barrett the simple question of how he met his wife and he immediately breaks into a story he clearly enjoys telling.

"I met her a long time ago at her hometown rodeo in Pretty Prairie, Kansas," Barrett says. "I met her when she was in college, about 19 years old. We became good friends and then she went on a tour with Up With People. Then we lost track of each other and I didn't see her for about 10 years. There was a chemistry between us even then. I felt it and didn't reveal it, and she felt it and didn't reveal it at that time.

"Then years later I ran into her in the airport in Denver, and nothing had changed. I knew the feeling was there the minute I saw her. And I found out later that she did, too. That is a total true story."

Barrett's life is full of stories like that, stories of fate, good timing and relatives eager to share their time and love. The Barretts, for instance, are able to maintain their rodeo lives thanks in part to the help of Lee's mother, Penny Wedel, who cares for Mag when Hadley and Lee are on the road.

"My mother-in-law lives on our place, and she's been marvelous," Barrett said. "She's very important to us, and she's very important to Mag."

Even Barrett's beginnings as an announcer has a storybook feel. He rode bareback horses and bulls in his younger days and played in a country music band.

"Back then it wasn't unusual for the announcer to maybe work an event or two," Barrett says. "And he'd find somebody to fill in for him. The position wasn't nearly as high profile as it is today. I started filling in for a guy named Joe Cavanaugh when he'd ride his bull. Then he became ill in Arnold, NE, and he just couldn't work the rodeo.

"I was the only guy available, so they asked me if I would fill in. Low and behold, a few people started calling and saying I ought to do more of this. It just kind of happened."

To say that Barrett has lived a rodeo life would be understatement the size of the Cheyenne sky.

"I played a lot of rodeo dances back then, so all of this kind of fit together," Barrett says. "In some places where I was still entered in the bull riding they'd keep my bull until after the rodeo and I'd ride then. I carried a sound system with me because I had to have one for our band. There were rodeos where I would put up the sound on the grounds, go help line up the grand entry, announce the rodeo, ride a bull and then go play the rodeo dance."

Years later, Barrett is still pounding the pavement, still announcing, still singing and still loving life. After talking about his life for an hour, it was time to go again, time to get ready for the next performance.

He locks his trailer, scurries down the steps and slides into the golf cart.

"Hey Hadley!" a friend yells. "We're going to have a bunch of good food over here tonight after the show. A whole bunch of good food."

Barrett smiles and turns toward the neighbor. "I wouldn't miss it," he says as his foot hits the floor. "Wouldn't miss it for the world."