While searching for dirt about last night’s high school basketball riot in South Dallas (anytime the acronym “S.W.A.T.” appears and Colin Farrell has nothing to do with the story, I’m encouraged), I almost missed the following gem from the Associated Press.

83-year-old Mike Ratliff has taught an estimated 8,000 cockfighters around the world how to breed and train game birds at his “School for Beginning Cockers.”

Worn down by age, he’s closing shop, causing animal rights groups to cheer and Ratliff to lament the end of an era.

“I’ve been hooked on cockfighting since I was a little boy,” Ratliff said, recalling how he watched at age 5 as new hatchlings pecked each other bloody. “There is no one to take my place.”

Ratliff and the Humane Society of the United States agree on one thing — that Ratliff’s school was unique in the United States. His last class met last month when two sons of a former student from Guatemala came to this tiny hamlet of 402 people in West Texas.

He said his two-week classes taught breeding, training and a spirit of competition in a sport where cheaters sometimes try to poison competitors’ birds. Students learned how to boost their birds’ stamina and sharpen running and jumping instincts.

He charged $150 when he started, but declined to say what his final rates were. By the 1980s he was selling instructional videotapes.

Ratliff says he’s traveled to countries where cockfighting is legal, including Mexico, teaching and winning cockfights.

“I’ve got students who are the best chicken men in the world,” he said. “They dominate.”

Some of his best students were women.

“The ladies have a tender, easy touch” with the chickens, he said.