There won’t be any NCAA Division I sports this fall at the University of Wyoming, but both the Cowboys and Cowgirls rodeo teams will have the opportunity to compete when the season begins this weekend at the Chadron State College rodeo.
College rodeo is not sanctioned by the NCAA, allowing programs such as UW’s to compete as a club sport. The National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA), which governs college rodeo, allowed each region to proceed and set its own guidelines to compete safely during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. UW Coach Beau Clark says some regions will not compete this fall and will opt to pick up again in the spring.
For the Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR), which includes UW, a shortened four-rodeo fall season is on tap, with five more competitions scheduled during the spring semester, including UW’s annual Laramie River Rendezvous Rodeo in late April and early May. CRMR coaches voted unanimously in July to hold a season.
Clark says he received the go-ahead to compete this season from Barbara Rasco, the dean of UW’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
“I’m just so appreciative of Dean Rasco, who has worked really hard to make sure our student-athletes are able to compete and to stay safe this season,” Clark says.
That is the goal for the coming season. But rodeo, like many activities nationwide, is at the mercy of the coronavirus.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our kids, who have done everything right and everything that we’ve asked of them to stay safe,” says Clark, in his third season at UW. He says the student-athletes are adhering to UW’s mandates during the five-day pause that halted the start of in-person classes this week.
“We are doing what the university tells us and trying to do our part to try to preserve our season,” Clark says.
To keep rodeo athletes safe this fall, the CRMR is following guidelines that include monitoring the health and temperature of each student-athlete, wearing masks and social distancing. Clark says most UW team members either will travel alone to rodeos or with their roommates, and others will sleep in their horse trailers that are equipped with sleeping quarters separate from their horses.
“The students’ job is really the same this year — do great in school, work hard in practice, and compete at a high level,” Clark says. “There are some challenges because of the virus, but it is doable to keep our students safe and as normal as a college experience as possible. I really do feel for the other UW sports, and I am just thankful that UW rodeo is able to move forward.”
When the pandemic shut down the season last spring and canceled the College National Final Rodeo (CNFR) in June, the NIRA voted to allow the spring seniors another year of eligibility this fall. That is good news for UW’s program, especially on the men’s side.
Clark has put together back-to-back CRMR championship seasons for both the Cowboys and Cowgirls and, with basically the same squads as last year, UW rodeo is poised for a three-peat for both clubs.
Returning spring semester seniors among the 54-member UW rodeo team are all CNFR veterans: Jace Berger, from Saratoga; Ty Everson, from Helena, Mont.; Seth Peterson, from Minot, S.D.; Jace Staudt, from Nathrop, Colo.; and Dusty Taylor, from Craig, Colo.
Expected to be on this weekend’s points team are Chadron Coffield, from Yuma, Colo.; Austin Hurlburt, from Norfolk, Neb.; Peterson; Donny Proffit, from Kemmerer; Staudt; and Garrett Uptain, from Craig, Colo.
The four-member Cowgirls points team also will be loaded with veterans Taylour Latham, from Roosevelt, Utah; Kelsey Lensegrav, from Interior, S.D.; and Jayce Thompson, from Yoder; and either Makenna Balkenbush, from Sheridan, or Faith Hoffman, from Kiowa, Colo.
“I certainly think we have a really good team, and our goal is to win the region again, but it sometimes depends on the strengths of other schools and if we match up in the right events,” Clark says. “There are many talented teams in the region, and I am excited to see where we are. It will be fun to see what everyone brings to the rodeo this weekend.”
As most of the UW team members are from in state and the region, many were able to compete in summer rodeos. The Cowboys and Cowgirls practiced at the team’s arena earlier this semester but were halted with the university’s mandated pause. Clark hopes to get in practices this week before the Chadron State College rodeo.
“We’re all on the same page and following the safety guidelines,” Clark says. “And, we are going to focus on controlling what we can control.”