He’s worked all across the country, but hasn’t done much in Southeast Oklahoma in quite a while.

That’s one reason Ron “The Ice Man” Hunter is looking forward to working as a clown at the prison rodeo in McAlester on Friday and Saturday.

“After I’d been doing rodeos for a while, I’d go to Texas and Kansas and places like that,” Hunter said. He laughed. “I thought I was big time then, but a lot more has happened since then.”

Hunter, who in his non-rodeo life is the principal of Weleetka High School, will be the barrelman at the 66th annual Oklahoma State Prison Rodeo.

It’s something of a highlight for him, sort of like the highlights hit when he was able to work the International Finals Rodeo 30 in 2001 or the Bill Pickett Invitational Rodeo, a touring black rodeo that seeks to not only provide competition and entertainment, but to remind black people of their often disregarded heritage in the American west.

“I haven’t done anything in Southeast Oklahoma in years,” Hunter said.

“I actually started rodeoing in 1975, roping calves. In ’85 or ’86, while I was working at (Eastern Oklahoma State College), I met James Griffin of the Bar G Rodeo Co.”

It was at one of Griffin’s shows in Arkansas that Hunter first had to consider becoming a barrelman, the fellow often called a rodeo clown whose main job is entertaining the crowd with jokes and acts and whose secondary job is to protect the other so-called clowns, the bullfighters, and the cowboys in the arena.

“I made the comment ‘That clown stinks,’” Hunter recalled.

Griffin asked, “Do you think you can do better? … Put up or shut up.”

The challenge led Hunter to take up being a barrelman and now, after 10 years, he has traveled widely, entertaining people across the United States.

“I go wherever I can any time I can get away from this desk,” he said, adding he doesn’t get additional days off from his job at the school just because he wants to do a show. “The board’s good, but they treat me just like everyone else on that.”

Working IFR 30 was a dream come true for Hunter, since making the International Finals was something he’d wanted to do since he first started wearing greasepaint and baggy pants in the arena. “I’d worked big crowds before, but that was great,” he said, adding “I thought, ‘Gosh, I finally made it to the big time.’”

Barrelmen are usually considered number three in line when it comes time to protect fallen riders from angry bulls. “I let the young guys fight the bulls now,” Hunter said.

“I’m 52, but you’re only as old as you feel. I feel 18, so I’m going to keep going as long as I can.”

One of Hunter’s comedy routines is a “Way Back Machine” that, he said, takes many of the adults back to the days of their youth, but he’s known in rodeo circles for keeping his jokes and comments clean, without the risqué humor often associated with barrelmen.

“Uh uh,” he said. “I like my jokes clean. There’s kids there and I learned a long time ago that some of the kids will try to copy whatever I do.”

Hunter had attended the prison rodeo when he was young, but he’d never thought he’d be performing at Oklahoma State Penitentiary. Now that he’s scheduled, he’s ready.

“It’s a rush being there and knowing where you are, but it’s even better knowing I get to walk out when the show’s over.

“I’m in it to have fun and I’m just blessed that I get to participate.”

Contact Doug Russell at drussell@mcalesternews.com.

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