McCOOK, Neb. (KNOP) - "I've got a picture of me sitting on a pony, swinging a rope at 18-months old."
MPCC rodeo coach Garrett Nokes was named the 2019-20 Coach of the Year for the Great Plains Region. It is the first time in his six years of coaching receiving the award. (Credit: Patrick Johnstone/KNOP-TV)
Rodeo has always been a part of Garrett Nokes' life. He started competing in junior barrel racing around the age of four or five, and competed with the National Little Britches Rodeo Association throughout his youth, before heading to Oklahoma Panhandle State University to compete in college.
"It's just been my life. I've done some other things, chute horses, sell insurance door-to-door. I've done it all to keep food on the table sometimes when the rodeo wasn't going the best," Nokes said.
Nokes' love of rodeo has been present his whole life, and he has worked hard at it. During his time at OPSU, Nokes was also competing professionally.
"It was a little different back then, you had to do a lot all night driving to make classes because there were no internet classes," Nokes said, "but it was all worth it."
His hard work paid off, as Nokes won Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Rookie of the Year in 1997, while also winning the Prairie Circuit steer wrestling and all-around championships the same year. He also went to the College National Finals, finishing third in calf roping. Nokes was also a part of the first two National Championships in OPSU history, winning in 1997 and 1998.
"It was hectic, and it was a lot of work, but it was a pretty awesome part of my life too," Nokes said.
Nokes grew up outside of McCook, and has competed out of McCook his entire life. He has amassed many awards at the national and state level, but recently added another, being named the 2019-20 Coach of the Year for the Great Plains Region. The Great Plains Region consists of 12 teams in Nebraska, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin, and includes several four-year universities.
"It's a huge honor to be Coach of the Year in this region," Nokes said. "There are 15 coaches in this region that deserve it every year. This is a phenomenal region, maybe one of the most positive environments that a kid can go to."
One of the things Nokes loves most about the Great Plains Region is that all the coaches are willing to help out kids from opposing teams.
"There are kids from all over the region that come for pointers from me in steer wrestling, calf roping, and some of them even get desperate and come to me for a team roping advice," Nokes joked. "Of course I want to win, there's nothing I enjoy more than winning, but I want my kids to do it by making great runs. I don't want them to do because other kids did not have good runs That's the thing that's special about this region, that's the way it is all the way through the region. I don't think there's a person in our region that would disagree with that."
Nokes has coached the Mid-Plains Community College rodeo team the last six years. Nokes and current rough stock coach Dustin Elliott built the team up from being just a club team a few years ago.
"We had to build it from the ground up, and I take a lot of pride in what we've built. These kids have responded, they want to be here, and we have phenomenal kids here," Nokes said.
At practice, Nokes likes the kids to focus on improving their horses.
"In the practice pen, we're practicing probably over 50% for the horses and not for ourselves," Nokes said. "They're our partners, you can't do this without a good one. There's a lot of times these kids will go to the first rodeo, and they may have not made a run in the practice pen for themselves yet, they've maybe been fixing their horse to where when their horse gets there, they can work. If they really buy into it, and they really try hard to get the horses working, they do good."
However, a good horse is only part of the equation, and Nokes works with the kids to boost their confidence in themselves.
"I've had some of them that couldn't beat anybody in the practice ring, but the other kids here on the team couldn't beat them when they got to the rodeo, because there wasn't anybody in the world that could tell them they couldn't win," Nokes said. "In their heart, they believe they can beat anybody, and that's that's 90% of it, and we talk about that a lot."
When the MPCC rodeo team shows up to an event, Nokes wants their opponents to be intimidated by them.
"I want them to be scared," Nokes laughed, "When we pull up, I want them to know that we're there, and know that they're going to have to beat us, we're not going to beat ourselves."
Nokes still competes at rodeos, though not as high a level as he used to.
"I'm more of a team roper now, because I'm kind of an old, fat, has-been," Nokes joked.
When he isn't competing or coaching the MPCC team, Nokes is still involved in teaching rodeo, as he mentors kids in McCook.
"I love being able to mentor the young kids. I've been coaching for six years now, but been doing schools here at the Kiplinger Arena for the calf roping and breakaway roping schools and stuff like that for 16 years," Nokes said. "I love being a part of that, and love being a part of helping the kids grow, and seeing them come back here and and get into competing."
Nokes is grateful to the North Platte and McCook communities for supporting the MPCC rodeo team, and grateful to be able to work with the team.
"This is a phenomenal program and there's nobody that enjoys it more than I do," Nokes said.