By Brian Besch
Grady Tinker needed a good score at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. Competing in ranch sorting, there were 100 other teams looking to better him. But they weren’t the main competition — that would be in his home.
His wife, who is a nurse at Leggett ISD, and son, a graduate of Livingston High, also competes with and against him. Successful on his seventh try in Houston, it was mandatory Tinker achieve this goal or face plenty of razzing at home.
His wife, Krystal, won a buckle in Houston three years ago, and he has been chasing her ever since. In the past, Tinker has won National Finals Champion of the Ranch Sorting National Championships, so he may hold bragging rights for now.
“We’ve been doing this about 10 years — my wife and me. It’s taken me 10 years to get that,” Tinker said pointing at his shiny, new belt buckle. “It is hard. The cows are always tough at Houston.”
Tinker said rodeo has been part of his life since riding calves as a 5-year-old. After graduating his senior year at Lamar High School in Arlington, Tinker joined the Army, starting a 25-year career. He retired in Polk County, where his wife has called home.
Interest in the sport from the couple began when friends told them about ranch sorting. The event has a 60-foot round pen with two sides, making a figure eight. The middle is called the gate, yet it is not a physical gate. It is an opening that joins the two pins with a 12-foot separation. Calves are numbered from 0 to 9 with a couple of blanks. There are 60 seconds on the clock and a number gets called. The calves then must be shuttled through from that number in sequenced order.
With 10 heads of calves and three rounds, Tinker and his partner, Raymond Martinez, registered a perfect 30 score and beat the field by a five-second interval.
Tinker’s father was a foreman on a ranch, allowing him to grow up around horses and cattle. Yet, he had to learn the sport, putting in three years of work to become competitive. He goes to many events on weekends, traveling two or three hours to reach a destination and practice his craft.
“It’s a family sport. There are kids probably five, six or seven years old that do this,” he said. “Grandparents do this; it is all ages. It is one of the sports out there that is really family oriented.
“You have to have your horses taken care of and medically taken care of, and then you have to turn around and get yourself physically fit and mentally fit to go in there. You have to correct the mistakes that you are making because it is a sport where the least amount of mistakes is what puts you into the winner’s circle.
Tinker said he chose the event because any age group can participate. He said competitors take part into their 80s.
“Those guys and gals will put it on you, because they have been doing it for so long. It is about reading cows. You have to be able to move the horse, but you also have to know how to read the cow and outthink where that cow is going to go or what pressure you need to put. Some of those people that have been doing it 30 or 40 years will go in and school you real quick.”
Buckles, jackets, saddles or prize money are all fantastic perks, but it is time with family that is the real goal.
“It is the family time and something that is competitive that we can have fun with. My wife and I can spend time together, and then my son can go with us and that is what makes the sports so enjoyable.”
Tinker, a military science instructor at Livingston ISD, said he wants the students in his program to learn from his experiences in sorting.
“All through life, you never stop being competitive at whatever you are doing. At the end of the day, it is how you mesh with other people. It is not about winning a buckle; it is about the commitment that you make with something. That is with an educational goal, going further in some type of sport or something similar. I want them to see that it never stops and that you can go out and reach your goals in anything you want to do.”
The course Tinker teaches is a lesson in leadership and how to interact with others. The lessons are something from which all students could benefit.
“You learn how to have honor, courage and commitment. That is the cornerstone behind anything that we do in life. What I am looking for in the term leadership is young people — when they graduate high school — that are goal oriented, driven and that they have commitments. They know that it takes hard work to go out there and earn things. You always go out and work like a team with people you are working for, whether they are under you, peers of you, or over you.
His students are all JROTC, but only around 3-5% contract with the military. Tinker says he receives phone calls regularly from his students’ employers who rave about their commitment and working as a team.
“They hear military science and it kind of gets a bad rap in a way,” Tinker said of the class. “People look at it and think, ‘That is only for people that are going to the military.’ It’s not. It teaches so many things that are going to prepare you. There is a lot of kids that miss out on this program because they look at it and think that they have to wear uniform, but that is just a tiny portion of what our program is about. It is more teaching you how to lead, how to work as a team, and teaching you how to work hard to accomplish things.
“I have a senior that is graduating this year. She got accepted to McNeese (University in Lake Charles, Louisiana,) for a music scholarship. She is never going to do the military thing. That school, when I wrote an endorsement letter for her and summarized all of her leadership from the time that she came into the program as a sophomore, they said, ‘We want you because you are going to bring some leadership to our team.’ That is what carried weight for her, and that is not going to be anything military.”
When Tinker arrived, there were 30 students in the class. This year, there were 80 enrolled at the high school with another 30 at the junior high.
“We tried to make this a place where everybody can feel like this is family. You can count on the person left and right and front and back, so that when you make mistakes you can grow and learn from them. You pass that on to the lowerclassmen before you graduate. Most of my seniors I put into director positions and are like my direct assistants, and at that point, should have learned how to develop a team. They should be able to take a group of people and work out all of their issues.”