For most fans of high school sports in Wallowa County, the name Hadley Miller is synonymous with basketball excellence. The Joseph Charter School senior earned a slot on the 2019-20 1A Old Oregon League basketball honorable mention team, and his drives and lay-ins helped energize the Joseph boy’s trip to the state playoffs this year. In football, Miller earned a reputation as the go-to wide receiver, snagging passes and breaking tackles to help lead the Eagles to the 2019 state playoffs in Madras.
But it’s not basketball or football that makes Miller’s heart sing. It’s rodeo. And it’s rodeo that’s giving him a free ride to college this fall.
Miller grew up in a ranching family that is as much involved with rodeo as it was with cattle. His sister, Haley Miller, was the Chief Joseph Days queen in 2018, his mom, Dena Rynearson Miller was on the CJD court in 1996, and his great-grandmother, Icel Edgemond Miller was the first queen of the Chief Joseph Days Rodeo in 1946. Hadley Miller has rodeo royalty in his heart and in his veins.
“I don’t know when I wasn’t thinking about being part of rodeo,” he said.
Although many rural schools in eastern Oregon have high school rodeo teams, there are none in Wallowa County. To participate in this national high school sport, Miller joined the Eastern Oregon High School Rodeo Club that included about 10 fellow high school students mostly from Union and Baker counties. He was the only Wallowa County participant among them. He found coaching from his mom, Dena Miller, and from Greg Suefer, who won acclaim as a pro roper in the Kansas pro rodeo (KPRA) circuit and now manages the Wallowa County Fairgrounds.
“He’s an athlete and he works hard, He wants to succeed,” Suefer said of Miller. “He’s just got a lot of talent for roping and everything else.”
Miller and his parents and his horse had to travel on their own so Hadley could compete at high school rodeos across the state. “There were some times it seemed like we drove 2,000 miles for one rodeo,” Miller said. “My parents definitely invested an awful lot of time and funds into supporting me.”
HIgh School rodeos are held in Burns, Prineville, St. Helens, Condon, Eugene and Klamath Falls on spring weekends. The distances are vast, the travel dauniting, especially if you have to return to school in Joseph for classes on Monday morning. Still that’s where college coaches come to recruit the next Casey Tibbs, Larry Mahan or Ty Murray.
“You just learn to deal with being tired,” Miller said.
Last year, Hadley placed in tie-down roping, steer wrestling and team roping events. His times and performances earned him seventh place overall in the state last year as a team roping heeler and ninth place overall in steer wrestling in the Oregon High School rodeo championship finals.
But this year, Miller’s senior year, the high school rodeo season was canceled. That meant no opportunity to showcase his talents to coaches from across the nation who would normally be recruiting at those events.
However, Miller had something better than a recruiter. He had his sister, Haley, who was attending Blue Mountain Community College on a basketball scholarship, She was also rodeoing. Haley put in a few good words for him with BMCC rodeo coach Shawn Eng, who had watched Hadley’s developing talents for years. It added up to a scholarship that covers Miller’s tuition and living expenses for his entire two-year sojourn at BMCC.
“It just seems like a natural place to go,” Miller said.
When he’s not practicing his roping skills, Miller will be studying welding and agricultural business. When he’s competing with the BMCC team he’ll be traveling with them to four regional college rodeos in the spring: Hermiston;, New Plymouth, Idaho; and Walla Wallaby’s and Ellensburg, Wash. And he’d also like to see a high school rodeo established closer to home, maybe in Union or Haines.
Does he envision a post-college career in rodeo?
“Lots of guys do rodeo part time,” Miller said. “I really don’t know what the future holds, but I’d like to continue with rodeo. It’s a big part of my life.”
Will we see his rodeo prowess in Wallowa County anytime soon?
“I’m probably going to enter the steer wrestling at Chief Joseph Days this summer,” he said. “After that, anything’s possible.”