Clown, barrelman uses school troubles to his advantage in his career
Hamel, Minn. (June 19, 2017) – Hamel Rodeo fans are in for a special treat.
John Harrison, the six-time Wrangler National Finals Rodeo (WNFR) specialty act and barrelman, will entertain Hamel Rodeo fans during each performance of the rodeo July 6-9.
The Soper, Okla. man is no stranger to making people laugh. When he’d get sent to the principal’s office in high school, he was still cracking jokes. “Every time the principal busted me, I’d shake his hand and say, ‘Thanks for making me a better person,’” John remembers. “It aggravated him when I did it.”
Now Harrison has turned his school troubles into a full time career. The grandson of world champion bull rider Freckles Brown, he has clowned rodeos across the nation, from West Coast to East Coast, and from North Dakota to Texas.
When he was six years old, he saw rodeo entertainers Leon and Vicki Adams at his hometown rodeo, and decided that’s what he wanted to do. His dad bought him a trick rope, and taught his son how to use it – in the family living room. “We tore up everything,” Harrison recalled. “I broke lamps, hit the ceiling, knocked plaster off the wall. Mom was always cussing us.
Harrison learned how to trick ride as well, and practiced every night after school with his dad’s help.
After high school, Harrison attended college but the rodeo bug bit. He ventured into the rodeo world, doing the trick riding, trick roping and roman riding at rodeos in the Midwest, then branching out across the nation, and adding rodeo clowning to his repertoire.
Now, nearly two decades later, he’s recognized as one of the best in the nation.
His acts range from trick riding to his magic act, to being “Miss Rodeo Universe” and jumping an old-time car on horseback.
He loves bantering with the crowd, using current events as topics. And he loves to point out people in the crowd. “I like to have fun with what’s going on,” he said. “Somebody on a cell phone, talking during the rodeo, everybody can relate to that. I do a lot of off-the-cuff stuff, and ad lib, and it keeps it fresh for me as well.”
John and his wife Carla, who married in 2006, have four children: daughters Addison (nine), Billie (who passed away from kidney failure in 2014 at the age of seventeen months), and Charlee, (one), and Caz, who is six. The family is on the road with him as soon as school is out, and he’s working on putting together an act that the kids can do with him.
Caz, who is in second grade, has worked with his dad twice at the WNFR. John has been selected to work the WNFR six times: three times as a specialty act (2001, 2002 and 2008) and three times as a barrelman (2013, 2015 and 2016). Caz, dressed in a matching yellow shirt with red fringe, like his dad, rolled out a mini yellow barrel. At the last WNFR, they did backflips, cartwheels, and the “worm”, and the pressure of being at the “super bowl” of pro rodeo never bothered Caz. “He doesn’t get nervous,” John said. “He’s so calm and chill.” Being in the spotlight in front of 18,000 people didn’t make him anxious. “He told me, ‘Dad, (the WNFR) isn’t even that big of a deal. They don’t even have mutton bustin’ at this rodeo.’”
John occasionally runs into his former high school principal, and when he does, the principal shakes his head and laughs. John realizes the grief he might have caused his teachers. “I see my (former) teachers now, and I apologize to them. And if they’re at a restaurant, I buy them lunch.”
It’s a small price to pay for success.
The Hamel Rodeo, held at Corcoran Lion’s Park, runs July 6-9. Performances are at 7:30 pm each night, with a Family Day matinee at 1 pm on July 8. The annual Hamel Parade kicks off at 2 pm on July 9. Tickets start at $9 and are sale online at HamelRodeo.org, at the Farmers State Bank of Hamel, at Pleasant Hills Saddle Shops, and at the gate.
For more information, visit the rodeo’s website or its Facebook page (search for Hamel Rodeo.)