With the Frontierado holiday coming up this Friday I figured what better time to focus on the neglected topic of college rodeo. Most of the schools that offered this sport have either dropped it completely or at the least lowered it from the level of intercollegiate competition to a club sport. Rogers State University in Oklahoma is one of the latter.
To get the inside story on the state of Hillcats rodeo I arranged to speak with Wren Baker, the Director of Athletics at Rogers State. I mosied on over to Claremore, OK, checked in at the Sagebrush Saga Saloon (signing in under the name The Bronson Canyon Kid…bad movie fans will get it) and grabbed a table. As I sat there drinking my Cactus Jack and brandishing my six-gun I noticed two steely-eyed Okies approaching my table. I holstered my piece and asked the two of them if they knew how to play Frontierado Poker.
The older of the two admitted he didn’t and the younger one grimaced before saying:
“Isn’t that the game made up by some blogger to go along with his personal holiday? The whole thing doesn’t even rise to the pedestrian level of an A.R.G. Don’t be suckered in by on-line Tomfoolery, friend. Just ignore the whole thing and focus on Festivus instead.”
I thanked the gentleman, who introduced himself as Kid Lohengrin (he named himself after his favorite opera), and was about to offer up a spirited defense of Frontierado when I noticed Wren Baker pushing through the swing doors into the Sagebrush Saga Saloon. He joined me at my table and after exchanging a few pleasantries we got down to business.
I asked if he wanted me to refer to him as “Wrowdy Wren” in the article but he just rolled his eyes. Taking that as a “yes” I dove into interview mode:
Bronson Canyon Kid: How long had Rogers State had a rodeo program at the intercollegiate level prior to the decision to drop it to club level?
Wren Baker: The team started as a club sport around 2001. We sponsored rodeo as an intercollegiate sport from 2006-2010.
BCK: What caused rodeo to be dropped back to club level at Rogers State? Was it just the expense or was it an overall decline in interest?
WB: It was more of a financial decision. Like many states, Oklahoma’s economy is struggling and our state appropriations have been down. Our Board of Regents asked us to look at high cost initiatives across campus. When we looked at rodeo, our per student expenditures were pretty high. Many rodeo programs have up to 100 students involved with the team. At RSU we’ve never had more than 20. I think much of that is because we do not have agriculture degree programs. The athletic department forwarded our costs on to the President and Board of Regents and the decision was made to compete as a club program.
BCK: Do you know how many colleges still offer rodeo as an intercollegiate sport?
WB: I don’t know the number. I would guess that it isn’t incredibly high. Since neither the NAIA or NCAA sanction rodeo as an official sport, many schools decide not to field a team. Rodeo is sanctioned by NIRA. Of the schools who field a rodeo team, I believe well over half are ‘club’ teams.
BCK: What do you look for when recruiting for a rodeo team?
WB: I think it is very similar to other sports. We look for a highly motivated individual who works hard at their sport and also in the classroom. Rodeo participants usually specialize in one or two events so recruiting often will be focused on the events where the school has the greatest need.
BCK: Do you label rodeo team participants according to a “position” or according to the activity they participate in?
WB: Each participant competes in certain events so to a degree yes. You may have a goat tyer or barrel racer, team roper or bullrider. However, many times a participant will enter in more than one event.
BCK: What does a typical practice for a rodeo team consist of?
WB: Our team practices 3 days per week. They will usually practice each of their events. Roughstock riders (bullriders and bronc riders) usually have to go practice with other riders at a neutral location.
BCK: Among the Rogers State Hillcats rodeo team’s past accomplishments what are you proudesst of?
WB: I think we are most proud of the students that have earned their degree and the students who have qualified for the national finals.
As nice a response as that is I was hoping he would say it was when the Hillcats were the host school for the Clem McSpadden Memorial College Rodeo at the Claremore Expo in 2009. McSpadden was a grand-nephew of Will Rogers and the name “Clem” has such a cool western air about it I wanted to be sure to include it in this post.
The interview was now winding down so I sprinkled in a few non-sports questions. Baker stated his greatest non-sports passion was working in his yard or spending time at the lake. He told me his favorite television Western was Bonanza so I asked him to sing the theme song. He declined so I pointed out how odd it was that Ben Cartwright had one son and one son only with three different wives. I told him a perfect tag line for the series would have been “Ben Cartwright: He mates; he kills.”
Wren laughed politely, wished me a Happy Frontierado and glided out of the saloon. I resisted the urge to follow after him shouting “Shaaaaane! Come back, Shaaaaane!”, paid my bar tab and went upstairs to my room.
To see photos of the aftermath of my brawl at the Sagebrush Saga Saloon click here: http://rsuhillcats.com/
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