Pro rodeo announcer Mike Mathis is the feature on the 2019 Wild Bill Hickok Rodeo buckle.
The Lufkin, Texas, man started his rodeo career as a bareback rider and bull rider, competing collegiately at Stephen F. Austin State University in Texas.
“I was somewhat part of their rodeo team,” Mathis joked. He enjoyed college rodeo, but knew that being a rodeo cowboy doesn’t always pay the bills.
So after graduating with a finance degree, he returned to his hometown of Lufkin, Texas, where he went to work for the local bank. But he stayed involved in rodeo, team roping in the East Texas Rodeo Association and volunteering with the Lufkin rodeo committee.
He began announcing amateur rodeos, becoming friends with the Steiner family, the stock contractors who brought the bucking horses and bulls to the Lufkin rodeo. They encouraged him to become a professional rodeo announcer.
His first chance was at the Lufkin rodeo, in the early 1980s. The hired announcer went to a funeral and was late to return. So Mathis started the rodeo off that night untill the announcer came back.
He became a PRCA member in 1983, but continued to work at the bank until he had added enough rodeos to his schedule to quit the bank. It was a leap of faith, he said.
“At the time, it didn’t look like a good decision, but it’s turned out well,” he said.
He and his wife Shan travel across the country as he works about forty weeks a year. He loves announcing rodeos.
“I like it all,” he said. “I enjoy the production, trying to entertain the crowd, working with the clowns and entertainers, making it something that people enjoy yet that is still traditional as the sport of rodeo.”
Mathis also has a deep respect for the rodeo contestant. “I am truly amazed at the quality of the athlete and what they can do.”
Mathis and his first wife, Susan, who passed away from cancer in 1999, had two sons. His second wife, Shan, also a cancer survivor, were married in 2009. He credits her with helping with his career.
“She helps with the horses and in getting up and down the road, all the things that happen before you can say, ‘hello, Abilene,’ to the crowd. And there’s a lot that happens from the time you load horses till you get them unloaded and saddled, that she’s a part of.”
Mathis has four grandchildren, and they’re starting to rodeo as well. His 13-year-old grandson finished fourth in the nation in the ribbon roping at the National Junior High School Finals Rodeo last year, and the youngest grandson is headed to the Texas Junior High School Finals in two events this spring.
He is honored and humbled by the decision of the committee to put him on the buckle. “The committee men care about and love that rodeo, and are willing to work their rears off. It’s a group of pretty amazing people who keep the rodeo alive and going, because it’s important to them and they love it,” he said.
“I like to tease them and mess with them, but when they put me on the buckle, it’s pretty humbling.”
The annual buckle auction for the rodeo will be held Monday, July 29, at the historic Shockey and Landes Building in Abilene at 324 North Broadway. Buckles numbered one through 10 and number 500 will be auctioned off.
Social hour for the auction begins at 7 p.m., with the auction to follow at 7:30 p.m. The rodeo takes place July 31-August 3 at 7:30 p.m. each night in Abilene at Eisenhower Park. For more information, visit www.WildBillHickokRodeo.com.