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Local cowboy ropes in state championship in Montgomery

Winning rodeo roping competitions is nothing new to 18-year-old Mike Otero of Greenville; he has been doing it most of his life.

But, winning the Alabama High School Rodeo Association's calf roping title on June 17 in Montgomery has left the young man looking for new challenges and a possible spot on a college rodeo team.

Otero graduated from Greenville High School as part of the class of 2000, and is finishing up the 1999/2000 competitive season with a trip to the National High School Rodeo Association Championships which will be held this year in Springfield, Ill. And, while Otero says he knows he will face some of the toughest competition of his life, he is hoping the event will give him the exposure he needs to land a college scholarship to a school fielding a competitive rodeo team.

"There are a lot of colleges in Texas that have bigger rodeo teams than football teams," Otero said. "That is the level of competition I am looking for and the coaches for these teams come to the nationals to look for prospects."

Otero said that regardless of how well he does in the competition, he hopes that his potential in the sport will be recognized.

Otero began riding horses at the age of six, and soon after began learning the basics of roping. By age 10, he began competing in calf roping events and has never lost his desire to be the best.

"It's a very competitive sport and I always want to be the best out there," he said. "I don't have any spare time because I spend it all practicing."

Otero has been trained in roping by Bill Stewart, of Stewart Farms in Dozier, since he was a small boy. Otero's father, Rey, said his son's dedication to the sport is what has made the difference in his success in the arena.

"This sport requires more dedication than any sport I've ever participated in," Rey said. "And if his coach didn't think he was dedicated to the sport he wouldn't continue to train him."

Otero said his coach doesn't charge money for his services, but does require his student to have the proper attitude when he comes to practice; It takes the right attitude to be the best, something Stewart does require.

Otero takes the 45 minute drive to Stewart Farms every day in the summer to practice as much as 8 to 10 hours. Throughout his high school career, he would make the trip three to four days a week to get in as much practice as he could.

The effort has paid off for Otero in the form of belt buckles for the family trophy case. In the junior division, Otero captured reserve champion in calf roping in 1995/96 and

a championship in calf roping, break-away roping, team roping and all around in 1996/97.

He took two years off to compete in professional rodeos during his freshman and sophomore years in high school, and then returned to the AHSRA to take fourth place in calf roping in the 1998/99 season. Along with his calf roping championship for the 1999/2000 season, Otero also competed in cutting, in which he captured fifth place in the state, and team roping with partner Jason Chavers of Andalusia to get a fourth-place buckle.

Otero and his family travel to Illinois for nationals on July 24 through 30, where he will compete in calf roping and team roping events. He said thousands of other young cowboys from all over the United States and parts of Canada will be there to compete for championships and college scholarships, and the competition will be tough.

"The best ropers in the nation will be there," he said, "and no matter how much you practice you never know how good you are until you go up against the best."

Otero need not worry about getting into college. The AHSRA rules make it clear that cowboys who don't perform in the classroom won't get a chance to perform in the arena.

Otero ranked fifteenth in the class of 2000 at GHS, and finished high school with a 92.3 cumulative grade point average. While math was his favorite subject in high school, he said he doesn't really know what he wants to concentrate on in college.

"I want to wait and see what happens at the nationals and then I'll decide where I want to go to college," he said. "Right now I just want to concentrate on rodeo, and some day be able to make a living at it."

Mike and his family said they wanted to thank the area sponsors making his bid for a national championship possible. These businesses include Southern Rubber, The Butler County Co-Op, Dukes Small Motors, The Feed Store and Simmons Brothers Sod.