It’s one of those sports in which fractions of a second make the difference.
If those time differences are in your favor, however, it can mean prize money, a college education, or both. It’s rodeo, and at Utah Valley University, it is paving the pathway to an education and a bright future for some students.
Five men and one woman from UVU’s rodeo team will compete in the College National Finals Rodeo June 9 through 15 in Casper, Wyoming. Caleb Hendrix, Saxon Day, Derrik Thompson, Emmalee Dubois, Weston Hogan and Zach Trapp comprise this year’s team.
This isn’t Dubois’ first rodeo. It’s the second year she has competed in the college finals, and she is looking forward to it.
“It is exciting,” she said. “It is the highest level of college rodeo you can get to. It is definitely an achievement and an exciting experience. I am looking forward to being able to compete against girls from all over the nation that I haven’t been able to compete against for a long time. I am also looking forward to watching our other team members. It looks like the men we are taking will be pretty good.”
The National Collegiate Athletic Association does not recognize college rodeo, as the participants are eligible for prize money. That’s not to say it is not demanding.
The majority of the 21 UVU students on the team are full-time students, according to rodeo program coordinator Shane Draper.
“Most have at least a part-time job, if not a full-time one,” he said. “They also practice and take care of their horses. They have got to be able to manage their time to get it all done in a day.”
There are other benefits to participating in rodeo, he said.
“They develop a great work ethic,” Draper said. “It is an individual sport. You get out of it what you put into it. If you are not 100% dedicated, you are only going to get that 80% or whatever you contributed. Sometimes it can be hard for them to balance that effort and school and put in the effort they need to.”
That effort has been paying off for former team members.
“We have had a lot of them come back and talk to the team,” Draper said. “They have said that going through the program helped them. “They learned time management or the importance of education. All of them have different stories of how it has helped them. Some have learned to be more of a team player rather than just an individual.”
That may seem unusual in a sport in which people participate as individuals rather than as a team, but Draper said it happens.
“We really have a close-knit group,” he said. “They truly help each other out. They support them with whatever they need. We get them to blend and bond as a team. They care about what their teammates are doing.”
Some of the former UVU team members have done well. “UVU has had World Champions such as Lewis Feild and Wesley Silcox participate in the rodeo program,” according to the university’s website. “National Champions have participated on our teams such as Dustin Durfee (team roping), Elisa Nielson (barrel racing), ‘Stormy’ Lance Sagers (bronc riding), Kaycee Feild (bareback riding), Ben Carson (steer wrestling), and Tag Elliott (bull riding).”
The program has been in existence since 1968 and is UVU’s first athletic program. Draper participated from 1995 to 1997 and said it had grown immensely since that time.
“We had to find our own practice place, and had to drive ourselves to the rodeo,” he said. “We got a little bit of travel money. Now our fuel and motels are paid for. We have our own arena, practice cattle, and stalls for nonlocal kids to keep their horses.”
More than 100 colleges and universities from across the country participate in the sport of rodeo. In each region, there are 10 rodeos in which points are awarded for performance. Those who achieve the highest in points qualify to participate in the nationals.
“We have had someone in the college finals every year since 2000,” Draper said.