Q & A with Lenell Dean

Lenell, competitors at shows and rodeos from the East Coast to Oklahoma have heard you announcing.  Do you have country roots?

My family grew crops and had cattle and horses on our farm in Williamston, South Carolina.  My dad’s dad grew up there, and the family’s always been in the farming industry.  I’ve always loved living in the country.  I can’t picture myself anywhere else.   We grew up with cows and pigs.  You name it, we had it.

We’ve got about 30 acres, mostly cleared out.  Right now we’ve got about 25 cows and 12 or 15 horses.  My mom and dad worked outside the home—my dad for a company for 35 or 40 years, and my mom taught kindergarten.

My dad and my grandpa had a garden, probably half an acre, planted with corn, tomatoes, okra, green beans… and they did all the plowing with a little pony named Duke.  It was very old school.  When I got to be a teenager, I started realizing the way things operate and what technology can do, and I told my grandpa:  “Don’t y’all know they make things you can hook to the back of a tractor and make it a whole lot easier?”  My grandpa whopped me upside the head and said, “Boy, get back to work!”  His other favorite phrase was, “Bend your back!”

My aunt lived with us, taking care of my grandpa when he got older.  She was like Aunt Jemima and could do any recipe you could think of.  My mom could, too.  They all cooked up that ole country kitchen.

Tell me about your horse background.

I grew up riding with my dad and my cousins.  About the age of 13 I decided it would be fun to start breaking horses on my own.  I just did the basics, breaking horses for my dad’s buddies.  The first horse I had to break was a Walking Horse, and it was the worst experience ever!  That horse had the worst attitude and he held his head real high.  It was a real fun experience trying to get through to that horse, but I did.  My dad taught me some things, but when it comes to breaking horses, you’ve got to get your own feel for it.

When I got to high school I became friends with Michael T. Green, his dad Mike Green, and his uncle Talmadge Green.  They’re in the barrel horse industry.  Michael and I would go to the family’s big Southern Rose Ranch in South Carolina and I’d hang out with them, playing with barrel horses.  I’ve been in the barrel horse world from there on and it’s been fun.

The most fun for me is starting a young horse and watching it grow.  I’ve worked with older horses, but I like watching the young ones grow up into something better.

You’ve spent a lot of time with the Greens.

Yeah.  Michael T. and I played high school football together.  We became great friends.  We clicked when we met, because we were both into horses.  He’d already won the National Barrel Horse Association title when he was young, so it was good for me to get in with those guys and learn more about the training.   Michael T.’s dad was quite the horseman.

You went to Newberry College in South Carolina to play football, right?

In high school I had a passion for football along with horses.  But you never know until you get to college how football is going to be.   I got a lot of accolades playing football in high school, especially my senior year.  I got an offer to play football at Georgia Southern University, but I took the offer from Newberry, a D2 school.  Freshman year gives you a realistic look:  in high school you’re a standout, but then you come to college and you realize you aren’t the best on the team anymore.  My roommate and I talked about how you were the best at your school, but the other guy was the best at his school.  In high school you just show up and play.  I knew college wouldn’t be easy—I knew from growing up on the farm how to put a little work in.  But it became like double-time duty, managing football and studying, going to class and going to practice and hitting the weight room.

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In high school I had taken a video/audio class, and had announced JV football games on Thursday nights.  If I wasn’t running my mouth, it felt like something was wrong.  My momma told me a long time ago that I’d be a millionaire if I got paid to run my mouth!  I decided to get into that in college and ended up majoring in sports management.  Then I got my shoulder hurt playing football and I came home to finish up at community college.  I hooked back up with Mike Green at Southern Rose Ranch and got back into the barrel racing world.

One time we went to a barrel race or youth rodeo and they needed somebody to fill in as announcer, so I stepped in, even though I wasn’t too sure about how I’d do.  A week or two later a guy called and asked me to come announce his barrel race.  He asked me how much I charged.  I said $100.  I was only 19 years old, and this guy wants to pay me just to run my mouth!  Next thing you know, I found out that you can make serious money announcing.  I’ve been doing it for 10 years now.

Is announcing your number one job?

Announcing takes up 80% of my work time.  When I’m home, we cut hay and I do some fence work.  A buddy of mine has a tree cutting business, and I help him out.  I keep myself busy.  I have to make money to support my family.

Tell me about your family.

I have twins and a stepdaughter.  My fiancée Scottie and I have been together for four and a half years.

I had been announcing for 5 or 6 years, and I thought, “I’ve got to get a girlfriend.”  The first time I laid eyes on Scottie, she was a waitress at a restaurant.  I said to my buddies, “If I’m not mistaken, that might be the best-looking woman I’ve ever seen in my life.  I’m going to try, boys!  I’m going to ask her out.”  Then I said, “I’m going to get shut down at least twice.  The third time is going to be a charm, I’m telling you!”  I kept hinting and hinting to her, and I got shut down once, then twice.  My buddies were laughing.  Finally I just stopped her and said, “Hey, look, you have to stop and talk to me now.”  There were four of us there, and she started talking to one of my good friends, and I said to him, “That’s not cool.  You knew I was trying to talk to her.  But, you know what?  If she wants to talk to you, go ahead and talk to her.”

She looked at me and said, “I was writing my phone number down for you, Goofy!”

She does a great job taking care of the family when I’m out of town.  She’s just all-around good for me.

What’s the farthest you’ve had to travel for an announcing job?

I guess the farthest West I’ve been is Arizona, maybe three or four years ago.  Right now the farthest I go is Oklahoma.  And I’ve got three jobs coming up in Ontario, Canada.

Announcers are so important, especially when there’s an accident.

That’s one of the big things.  Someone has to take control.  It doesn’t have to be the announcer, but we’re in a position to do it.  We can’t panic.  If we react badly, the crowd will, too.  I always use the theory of the three c’s:  cool, calm, and collected.

Rodeo announcers have a tough job because many people in the stands have no idea what they’re looking at.  You have to teach them how to watch.

That’s not a bad thing for us announcers, having rookies in the stands.  We are the teachers, and the people really want to get the information.  You explain more to the crowd at rodeos in the Eastern states.  In Texas and Oklahoma and on to Montana, they have rodeos every weekend, if not every day.  It’s a way of life for them.

What’s the most difficult event for you to announce?

Mounted shooting.  It’s a different feel.  Most of the spectators are competitors.  A guy called me up and said, “I want to get you here because I want to change things and make it more exciting.”  I tried to bring more of a “rodeo” feel to the competition:  playing music, announcing the riders’ accolades, building them up.  But in the rodeo industry you run across most of the competitors all the time, and you know them.  For instance, I’m going to Augusta for the NBHA and I know most of the competitors, and I can make it sound really great with people I see on a regular basis.  But with mounted shooting, there’s this gun going off—are people listening to me or to the gunfire?  But I did it for three years, and it was great.

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Are you your own DJ?

Once you get into the big national and international associations, they have an audio person who’s in charge of the music.  I do it myself for smaller competitions, but it helps to have another person at your side.

A lot of the competitors that you know well will have their own song of choice that they want to hear.  I joke with them and say, “Y’all never even realize I’m playing it because y’all are in the zone!”  They say, “Well, I love to hear it when I’m watching my replay or the video!”

What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to deal with when announcing?

Making a judgment call.  It’s not bad in rodeo where you have judges, like in bull riding.  The judges have to take the heat.  In barrel races, we’ve had situations where people think we’ve been messing with the clocks.  I was announcing a barrel race in Tennessee 6 or 7 years ago with Billy Webb.  He does timing for events.  Three horses with three different riders, back to back, all had exactly the same time.  I was joking about it, but a lady came up and made a big issue about it.  Billy has a backup timer and a tape that he prints up, and he writes down the time as he sees it come across the clock.  It was just a freakish thing.

Barrel races require judgment calls.  If a horse is having trouble coming in, you still need to start the clock.  When they’ve paid a high entry fee, you hate to scratch them, but it’s one of those things.  Usually after I see that they are really, really having trouble, I’ll call out to one of the guys that’s helping at the gate, “Hey, can you help her in?”  It’s hard for me to say, “All right, we have to keep this event moving, and we have to start the clock at two minutes.”  If I give one horse extra time, then I have to do it for everybody.  I wish I could change the situation, but it is what it is.  When you are trying to produce a show you want to stay in a time frame and keep things rolling.  We aren’t trying to single out one person.  This rule applies for rider #1 as it does for the rider at the very end.  We have to go by the rules or there would mad chaos.

Are you doing any riding these days?

When I was with Mike Green I learned a lot of things about training a barrel horse.  I’ve got customers and a client who sends me horses to tune up.  I compete when I have time, but it’s tough to ride and announce.  When I get home I go to the smaller shows nearby.  My girlfriend’s cousin has been knocking on my door, begging me to get over to his house and do some team roping.  I’d like to do that, to give my horses something else to do.  I think a horse needs to learn 3 or 4 things to do.  It keeps the horse’s mind at a happy medium.

Which venue is your favorite to announce in?

It’s not even an arena.  It’s a bull riding deal called Bulls on the Beach, in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.  The grandstand is set up on the beach.  It was perfect.  I loved it.

Do you get together with the rodeo clowns and work out your “bits” beforehand?

Most of the guys know each other, because we’ve been doing it long enough.  The clowns have a routine and a plan, just like we announcers have a plan to talk up the competitors.   But sometimes we babble and “wing it”!

I know a lot of guys who used to be bull fighters, and now they do “funny man” stuff.  It’s good to know there are guys who once were bull fighters and are there to save bull fighters.  In Colorado this year, a bucking bull named Roy came out bucking hard.  He’s so talented at bucking that he got himself off balance and came down hard and broke a leg.  Then he jumped up and broke another leg when he came down again.   The clowns and the pickup man did an awesome job at getting that bull roped and stopped.  It was professional.  I was very proud to see it.

What would you like to add?

My brothers Derrell and Jerrell would probably kick my butt if I didn’t mention them.  The crazy things is, they’re twins, and now I have twins.  I said, “Boy, I guess I was doomed from the beginning!”  It’s a blessing now, though.  My brothers and I all grew up on that farm together and we all had the same lessons in life and work ethic.

Thank you, Lenell!