– Samantha Tenpenny
***The writer is enrolled in Comm 240 News Reporting.***
The guts and glory that are college rodeo will make their way back to the Doug Phillip Arena, on Golf Course Road just off the U.S. 183 bypass in Hays, on April 18-19. Fort Hays State University will host its 48th annual National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association event.
Nearly 600 cowboys and cowgirls who make up the NIRA Central Plains Region across Kansas and Oklahoma will travel to Hays Easter weekend in an attempt to stamp their ticket to the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo., this summer. Around 20 on FHSU’s own team will be competing.
“At first glance, fans will notice a new look for the Doug Phillip Arena as we have recently torn down the old announcer’s stand. Thanks to President Hammond, plans have been approved and are underway for the completion of a new announcer’s stand and clubhouse for next year’s rodeo,” said FHSU Rodeo Coach Bronc Rumford.
“We are also very fortunate to have the great support that we do from the Ag Department here, as Department Chair Dr. John Greathouse generously coordinated the donation of 20 loads of sand which have been added to our arena. This has significantly altered and improved the competitive surface for every event.”
Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday, April 18, and 1 p.m. Saturday, April 19. They will feature several events, including bareback riding, tie-down calf roping, breakaway calf roping, saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, goat tying, team roping, barrel racing and bull riding.
With so many competitors, only a fraction of the entries can perform during the performances. The reminder will compete during the “slack” portion of the competition. Slack will begin at 9 a.m. Friday, April 18, and 8 a.m. on Saturday, April 19.
Upon completion of all slack and performance competition, the top 10 competitors in each event will return on Saturday, April 19, at 7:30 p.m. to compete in the “Championship Round” where one-of-a-kind Twisted Tack trophy bronc halters and Hy O Silver belt buckles will be awarded.
“The Central Plains Region [of the NIRA] is the largest in the country in regards to number of contestants,” Rumford said. “A good argument could also be made that this is one of, if not the, toughest region, competition wise. We currently have a contestant that is not only leading the college regional and national standings, but the world standings in the professional ranks as well.
“The reigning NIRA National Champion Men’s Team is in this region, as are several PRCA [Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association] Prairie Circuit competitors and past Women’s Professional Rodeo Association World’s Champions. The competition at this event will be top-notch, as will the stock which will be brought to you by Medicine River Rodeo,” said Rumford.
“Sutton Rodeo will also be bringing some stock down from their NFR [National Finals Rodeo] breeding program.”
Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. performance will feature an FHSU Rodeo tradition, the infamous “Wild Ride,” where cowboys ride a bucking horse in costume. The winner is whoever makes the wildest ride. FHSU’s Wild Ride has seen a variety of entries in the past, including the FHSU mascot, Victor E. Tiger, and Nintendo’s Mario and Luigi, who rode one horse, at the same time, among other creative and curious characters.
Additionally, the 7:30 p.m. Friday performance will showcase the annual costume ribbon roping. This event puts a cowboy and cowgirl’s teamwork and athleticism to the test while stirring up a few laughs along the way.
“Ribbon ropin’ was one of the original events of college rodeo that was later replaced by the team roping. Here we’re taking a spin on this classic event by throwing costumes in the mix for entertainment value,” Rumford said.
On a more serious note, FHSU has several students fighting for top positions in hopes to secure a spot at the CNFR. Marquette sophomore Jake Willems got a late start on the competition as he transferred from Oklahoma Panhandle State University, requiring him to sit out the first three rodeos of the year.
However, that hasn’t held him back. Having accumulated 215 points so far this season, Willems is sitting ninth going into the final stretch of the regular season. With the top three for the year-end in each event qualifying for the CNFR, Willems is certainly in the hunt for a chance to compete at the prestigious event.
Other FHSU rodeo team members who have qualified for championship short round competition this year include juniors Tylee Coffman, Dunning, Neb., in the breakaway roping, and sisters Tonnica and Tennille Ouellette, Yoder, Colo., both in the goat tying.
As the team is in Weatherford, Okla., April 10-12, before competing in Hays, Rumford and Assistant Coach Ross Russell are confident that a few others will be added to that elite list.
“Our girls’ team is outstanding. Several things have to fall into place in order for a competitor to be successful, but our women’s team certainly has the ability to be as tough as anybody out there,” Rumford said. “Our men’s team is young but certainly has the talent as well.”
In addition to competing in what many argue to be the toughest region in college rodeo, FHSU Rodeo Club members have been busy preparing for this event for several weeks.
“We start getting ready for the rodeo by fundraising and collecting sponsorship dollars to pay for the production of the event. It usually costs the club around $35,000 to put on our rodeo, so this alone is a pretty big undertaking for our members,” said Jessica Percival, Oxford, Neb., sophomore and FHSU Rodeo Club secretary.
“Once we get that ball rolling, we focus most of our attention on preparing the rodeo grounds by repairing and painting fence, picking up garbage, cleaning pens and stuff like that. Once it’s actually time for the rodeo, club members will take tickets, load stock, set up barrels and so much more. Aside from bringing the stock, literally every aspect of this event is done by the students,” Percival said.
A year and a half ago, longtime FHSU Block and Bridle and Rodeo Club Advisor Dr. Gary Brower died. Brower was the foundation of the rodeo program at FHSU for several years, and his memory has continued to play an integral role in the club through a scholarship fund that was established in his honor.
The “Doc Brower Memorial Scholarship” will be awarded Saturday night during the championship performance at 7:30 to a FHSU Rodeo Club member who has a competitive spirit and not only exhibits strength and leadership in the arena, but more importantly, in the classroom as well.
Rodeo tickets are $8 in advance and $12 at the gate for adults; $5 in advance and $8 at the gate for ages 6-16. Children 5 and under get in free, as do FHSU students with their Tiger Card. Tickets may be purchased in Hays at the Student Service Center in Memorial Union, Oschelns and Vanderbilts. Spectators can watch the slack portion of the competition free of charge and are welcome to attend a cowboy church service, hosted by Dale Hirschman, Saturday afternoon.
“The weather is looking to be the best in years, and we can guarantee you’ll have a good time,” Rumford said.
Those wanting more information may contact Rumford at 785-628-4689 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Information is also available on the FHSU Rodeo Club Facebook fan page.