Michael Lentz attended his first gay rodeo, the 1990 IGRA Finals Rodeo in Phoenix, at the urging of several friends he had met in Charlie's Denver just the month before. His interest in country/western dancing, love of the cowboy scene, excitement for the thrill of rodeo competition, and desire to share these experiences with others made him one of the pioneers who first brought gay rodeo "east of the Mississippi". The sport of gay rodeo has provided him an outlet to channel his passions for organizational leadership, data-driven decision making, business and teaching.
Michael grew up in rural North Carolina spending time on his grandparents' and other nearby farms. His first and only experience with bareback bronc riding came when at age 12, he was asked to help a break a pony for a neighbor's young daughter because he was "the right weight". Unfortunately, that experience landed him on his head in a briar patch. Twenty years passed before he got onto the back of another wild animal for his first steer ride attempt at the 1992 Texas Gay Rodeo. Again, he was tossed on his head, but the following day he climbed back on to score his first successful steer ride.
Michael graduated from the University of North Carolina majoring in Mathematics with a minor in Economics in 1981. He later returned to Chapel Hill for graduate school in Applied Statistics. His gay identity was well-formed in those college years, becoming politically active and leading an effort to exert significant gay influence within the University Student Congress. He moved to the Washington, DC area upon completion of his graduate studies beginning his career of public policy and financial analysis, in which he eventually started his own consulting business.
A friend invited him to Remingtons gay country/western dance bar in 1988 where he immediately fell in love with the idea of gay couples dancing in close contact. He soon developed connections with a circle of fellow country/western dance enthusiasts. During the visit to the 1990 Phoenix Finals rodeo, his new friend Hal Baker took him behind the chutes to see the action up close. Hal's subsequent gift of the weekend's bareback bronc riding buckle hooked Michael on gay rodeo. Upon his return to Washington, he teamed with his friend Dave Hehr in the search for more gay rodeo experiences. The two joined Diamond State Rodeo Association and trekked to Denver for the July 1991 rodeo as first time competitors.
Meeting up there with Phil Riggin, an old friend originally from Maryland, and then Phil Hastings, another DC native, his life was forever changed within a few short weeks. Prompted by Wayne Jakino and others, the foursome of Michael, Dave, Phil and Phil decided that they had to bring gay rodeo to the east coast. In four short weeks, they developed a business plan and marketing materials, wrote a set of bylaws, initiated sponsorship outreach, and created a new corporation, the Atlantic States Gay Rodeo Association (ASGRA), with Michael as the founding President. They enlisted over 200 new members within a month and became seated as an IGRA member association in August 1991. Within a year, ASGRA produced its first Atlantic Stampede rodeo, "the first gay rodeo east of the Mississippi". With the hard work of many dedicated volunteers, the annual Atlantic Stampede emerged as a wildly successful franchise renowned for on-site and evening entertainment and dances, mixing urban sophistication and western flare. ASGRA also sponsored many recreational and cultural/dance events, including the major country/western venues for the 1993 and 2000 GLBT civil rights marches in Washington.
Michael served as ASGRA President from 1991 to1993, and then served on the IGRA Board of Trustees for three terms, from 1994 to 1999 and from 2003 to 2005. During that time, he worked on development of the original Miller Lite sponsorship contract and was appointed as the first IGRA Animal Issues and Concerns Committee chairman, where he was responsible for development of the original IGRA Statement of Position on Animal Welfare; he continued to chair the committee from 1993 to 1996. He was chairman of the Rodeo Growth & Development Committee from 1997 to 1999 and again from 2004 to 2009. He was elected as chair of the IGRA Board of Trustees in 1998 and 1999. He led the effort to bring the IGRA Convention to Baltimore in 1998, producing an event that blended the necessary business of IGRA with a weekend entertainment extravaganza that included a Thursday bar crawl, Friday harbor cruise, Saturday evening dance contest and waterside dance "under the stars", and Monday beach excursion for convention delegates.
Michael served as IGRA International Sponsors co-chair in 2000, Rodeo Judges chair in 2010 to 2012, and as Special Projects chair from 2000 to 2003. He is known for producing and presenting annual statistical summaries of IGRA attendance and participation benchmarks, reflecting his passions for both statistics and IGRA. He has been a long time member of the Illinois Gay Rodeo Association and was a charter member of the Liberty Gay Rodeo Association.
One of Michael's prime goals in bringing gay rodeo east was to be able to compete in his own town. During his time as a competitor, he participated in calf roping on foot, the three camp events -- always the "drag" in wild drag race -- and chute dogging, but his heart was always in steer riding, where he experienced several mishaps but also his greatest successes. One of his Atlantic Stampede dust ups was featured prominently as a photo series in Washington DC's Metro Weekly magazine, with one picture being judged their "photo of the year" for 1996. Michael competed in steer riding five times between 1993 and 1999 at the IGRA Finals Rodeos, with a range of outcomes, from a show-stopping injury at Ft. Worth in 1993 to winning the International Steer Riding championship at Denver in 1995. He was later quoted in a magazine interview saying "I can't remember the pain of injury the way I remember the thrill of participation; the pain doesn't stay with me, but the joy does".
In addition to competition, Michael found a special connection in gay rodeo that came from the need to develop an all-new rodeo team for ASGRA starting in 1991. He and other members of the association built a very successful training program and Michael's favorite part was introducing new steer and bull riders to his favorite events. Michael served as an instructor and moderator at IGRA University between 2003 and 2010 presenting multiple seminars in the areas of marketing, logistics and contracts development.
Michael has also been involved in numerous promotional and documentary - literary, photographic, and video graphic - efforts to publicize IGRA activities to and beyond the gay community. He was an organizer and coordinator for the ASGRA/IGRA presence at the GLBT Business Expo in New York City from 2003 to 2005.Michael played many roles in the development and production of all ASGRA Atlantic Stampede rodeos between 1992 and 2005. He was an organizer, coordinator and sponsor, involved in marketing, sponsorship,
publicity/publications, legal and regulatory compliance and special events. He was an innovator in many aspects of the rodeo production, and helped create the Dolley Madison Race, which became an annual part of Atlantic Stampede. Michael also created Mamma's Calf Catch - a shout out to the nickname "Mamma" bestowed upon him by the 1997 ASGRA Royalty Team - but that event was short-lived. He was the rodeo director in 2002 and the assistant rodeo director in 2003.
He was certified as an IGRA rodeo judge in 1998 and first judged at the San Antonio Texas Gay Rodeo that year. He served as the IGRA Judges Committee chair from 2010 to 2012 and has been a dedicated leader in the development of new rodeo judges.
In 2000, Michael was recognized as the inaugural recipient of the ASGRA Golden Lariat lifetime achievement award. In 2004, he received the IGRA Presidential Service Award. It is for his many contributions to IGRA that he is being inducted today into the International Gay Rodeo Association Hall of Fame. Michael becomes the first member of the Hall of Fame from an association "east of the Mississippi".