Tom Parker mourned by Casper College (Wyo.) rodeo team, rodeo community
For nearly 30 years Tom Parker was the force behind the Casper College Thunderbirds rodeo team in Casper, Wyo. As a coach he did more than teach about rodeo. He hauled stock to whatever makeshift practice location they could come up with. He moved panels and got dirty. And he cared.
Parker died of cancer March 15 at the age of 69.
“Tom did everything for this rodeo program, 27 years. This whole deal, there have been two coaches, Tom and Dale Stiles; that’s pretty impressive,” said Jhett Johnson, Casper College assistant rodeo coach and a world champion team roper. “He’s the one who has held it all together, hauling stock in and out and doing whatever needed to be done.”
Upon speaking with those who worked with Parker and learned under him, it’s clear he has remained in their hearts. He was supportive of anyone who needed him, whether they were on his rodeo team or not.
“The biggest impact he had on me was when I went back and taught at Casper College, his office was next door to mine,” Samantha Dyer said. “I was fresh out of college in my first job, and he was so laid back about everything. Casper College was really hands-on. If you’re on the rodeo team, Tom was like your second dad. If you didn’t show up to class, you got a phone call from your coach or advisor. If one of those kids got in trouble or something, he would lay it on the line, and say this is what happened, don’t let it happen again, but he said it in a caring way.”
Heidi Geesen, a former student of Tom’s and former assistant rodeo coach, remembers Tom as the concerned and caring father figure.
“I was sitting third in the region as a sophomore, and they would only take top two for finals. We were doing well as a team but not good enough. I went to tie a goat and I hit a hole and hi-ho silvered. Nothing was broke, but I could hardly walk,” Geesen said. “I was on crutches, and had an extra day to gimp around. I got done tying my goat on Saturday, and I go hobbling over. He picked me up and was scared to death. He didn’t want me to hurt myself more but still encouraged me and wanted me to do my best. I ended up winning the long, short, and average. I ended up winning the region for second year in a row.”
Under the tutelage of Parker, the Thunderbirds women’s team qualified for three College National Finals Rodeos in his first 15 years of coaching. The men’s team took a little more time, but came through strong. They took the regional title home in 2011. From there, the Thunderbirds soared.
The men’s team took home the same title the following year, and finished in either first or second in the region in five of the past six rodeo seasons.
“He had a good way of keeping his team tied together; he always had four or five kids that were competitive on every level. Just since I’ve been there, we’ve had a team at the college finals every year,” Johnson said. “He was in rodeo on the high school level, college level and pro level. Tom was a PRCA judge, a college coach, and sat on the board for high school rodeo. Out of the arena, he was a friend to a lot of people. I spent four years with that guy and never had a bad day.”
“He loved kids and he loved the sport of rodeo,” Geesen said. “He retired from teaching four years ago, but stayed with rodeo. It was just the type of guy he was. After I was done rodeoing in 2006, the college had allowed him to have an assistant. I don’t know if I was his first choice, but I was the one he ended up with. Tom let me have as much reins as I needed to help the girls. I didn’t know what to do. Do you sit in the stands and watch and critique, or do you get down in the dirt and help? My first fall was spent watching him and learning how to help, and by that spring, I was helping anyone and everybody. I wouldn’t know to do that if it wasn’t for him and the way he was.”
Parker also devoted himself to teaching at the agriculture department at Casper College.
“I think everybody who ever had anything to do with Tom knew how much he believed in them. The Casper College facilities weren’t that great. We didn’t have an indoor arena, and they would get frustrated about practice,” Dyer said. “Even so, I don’t think anyone on his rodeo team could say they ever had anyone who supported them as much as Tom did. It didn’t matter what you were doing — it just didn’t matter — he was there for them.”
Parker’s funeral was held on March 28 at Highland Park Community Church in Casper. Private family interment took place at Highland Cemetery. Johnson and one of the students on the rodeo team will be speaking on behalf of the rest of the team. Parker’s team will be in their rodeo garb: white shirts and red vests.
Johnson said, “It’s business as usual, but he will be greatly missed. You can’t replace a guy like that. It took him 27 years to gather up everything he knows, what are the odds of finding another man like that?” Johnson has stepped into the role of head coach and his brother Justin Johnson will act as assistant coach to finish out the school year.
Parker is survived by his wife, Linda, and sons Jerrod and Ryan.