May 13, 1963 -
Lewis Sanders comes from a long family history of rodeo. Lewis' grandfathers, great grandfathers, and many great uncles were some of the pioneers of rodeo in Arizona and New Mexico, dating back to the late 1880's. As he was growing up, Lewis attended rodeos whenever he could and always yearned to be the 'cowboy' his granddad was. He loved riding horses, but was never a great rodeo competitor, and realized his place was in the stands watching the rodeos and appreciating the skill of the rodeo cowboy. *(yeah, their SKILL was what Lewis was watching).
Lewis is the baby out of eight children and was born in Beeville Texas on May 13, 1963. His father was a Marine pilot who was stationed in Beeville as an instructor for fighter pilots. Both of Lewis' parents were born in Arizona and all of his grandparents were settlers to Arizona and New Mexico in the late 1800's. Growing up a Marine brat, his family moved every 18-24 months up until Lewis was in high school. Moving a lot as a child will do one of two things: make the individual very anti-social, or develop a person who makes friends easily and is always looking for a new adventure. Lewis became the latter. The majority of his high school years were spent in Yuma Arizona, with his senior year and graduation taking place in Savannah, Georgia. After high school, Lewis moved back to Arizona where he worked in the hotel industry for a short time in Kingman, as well as Bullhead City. At the age of 20 he made his move to Phoenix.
In 1986, Lewis heard that there was going to be something called a GAY RODEO in Phoenix. He laughed and said: "This ought to be good." He and a few friends attended; figuring this would be a fun 'gay event,' but not much of a rodeo. Lewis was surprised at what he saw. He found some very serious competitors. He also found he could go talk and flirt with them - and that was VERY APPEALING. Lewis attended every Arizona Gay Rodeo Association (AGRA) rodeo, and all International Gay Rodeo Association (IGRA) finals rodeos held in Phoenix since that very first rodeo. In addition, Lewis traveled at least once to almost every IGRA rodeo location. The only exceptions were Seattle, Reno, and Atlanta, and he still regrets not being able to attend those.
The first few rodeos Lewis attended were in the early days of HIV/AIDS, and he had met some wonderful people. But then at the next rodeo, he would learn they were 'gone'. This was devastating to Lewis, as there were two particular people he remembered fondly, but couldn't remember exactly what they looked like. He didn't ever want to forget someone again, as he felt no one should be forgotten. Lewis began taking his camera and documenting the many faces of gay rodeo. He wasn't concerned about pictures of the rodeo events, as Lewis wanted to remember the individuals. Lewis' archive of rodeo pictures over the years has now been archived on his Facebook page, and has been provided to the IGRA archives.
After attending rodeos for a few years, Lewis became involved with AGRA back in the early 1990's. He served on the nominating committee, and after multiple issues with finances in the organization, Lewis assisted in rewriting the rules to no longer have an elected Treasurer, but a board appointed Treasurer requiring bonding.
Lewis then worked heavily with the Golden State Gay Rodeo Association (GSGRA) - San Diego Chapter in their early days, traveling from Phoenix to San Diego on a regular basis to attend meetings and work with the group in planning rodeos and community functions.
In 1991, Lewis moved to Washington, D.C. for one year, helping the Atlantic States Gay Rodeo Association (ASGRA) in its start up by using GSGRA and AGRA bylaws to help form the ASGRA bylaws. Lewis served as the "Alternate IGRA Trustee" for ASGRA's first two years, representing ASGRA at over ten rodeos in addition to attending the IGRA Trustee meetings. Lewis also worked with the formation of ASGRA's "13 Spurs" newsletter, and even wrote a regular column for the first year or two.
In 1992, during the first Atlantic Stampede Rodeo, Wayne Jakino convinced Lewis he should get involved with the announcing of rodeos. Starting with the Phoenix rodeo in 1993, Lewis proceeded to work with Wayne throughout the next year, getting trained and gaining valuable knowledge at almost every rodeo on the IGRA circuit. In 1994, Wayne pushed Lewis out of the nest and sent him off to announce rodeos on his own. In the years following, Lewis announced at almost every IGRA Sanctioned rodeo at least once, except for Seattle, Atlanta, Reno, San Francisco Bay Area, and Palm Springs; with a very long tradition of announcing the San Diego rodeo for over 15 years.
While announcing rodeos, Lewis also trained many new announcers getting started on the IGRA circuit, including: David Smith, Frank Elam, Jr., Dot Trevis, Scott Tickler, Gaither Pennington, David Carpenter, Jason Delto, and even Levi Crocker from the television program "A-List Dallas." After hearing of many embarrassing situations at rodeos with 'outside' announcers who didn't understand IGRA rules, processes, or contestants, Lewis developed a set of Announcer Guidelines for adoption at the IGRA level. The goal was to ensure that associations used announcers with a strong solid foundation of the IGRA and what gay rodeos are all about, and to ensure a consistent positive presentation to contestants and guests at IGRA rodeos.
In the late 1990's, Lewis moved to San Diego, where he got even more involved in GSGRA - San Diego Chapter, as well as the state association. Along the way, Lewis served as GSGRA - San Diego Rodeo Director, Chapter Vice President of Operations, and Chapter President.
At the IGRA level, Lewis served as the 1993 IGRA Budget Committee Chairman. Lewis also attended many IGRA conventions, typically working with both the Rodeo Rules and By-laws committees. Lewis also served as an instructor at IGRA University in the Rodeo Announcer series.
After 19 years, Lewis retired from announcing rodeos at the IGRA "World Gay Rodeo Finals" in Ft. Worth, Texas in 2011. He still provides mentoring for announcers and says he may be coaxed out of retirement for at least one or two rodeos. Since he has stopped announcing, he is enjoying his time that was formerly spent working at rodeos by camping and taking cruises. Lewis' hobbies outside of rodeo include travel, amusement parks and roller coasters, camping, and genealogy. Through his genealogy research, he discovered many other IGRA individuals who are actually related to him; including an ASGRA member who share a 3x Great Grandfather from Anderson, South Carolina in the early 1800's, and an AGRA member who shares a 2x Great Grandfather.