STORY BY MAKENNA ALLEN
Gates clang and metal clatters as clods of dirt spatter against the rails. The humid September air is penetrated only by the whinnies of horses tied to trailers. At Fort Hays State University, these sights and sounds can mean but one thing. It’s rodeo season.
Indeed, the rodeo team has just kicked off their first weeks of practice and are already preparing for the upcoming season. With practices recently underway, the young team is learning the ropes and routine of daily life on the team.
These new students are prepared to jump in, ready to learn from head coach, Bronc Rumford, and assistant coach, Ross Russell.
“This is my first year,” team roper, Tanner Kay, said. “I’ve always grown up around rodeo so when I came here, I decided to try it out.”
Other new team members, like breakaway roper, LaRae Boaldin, are transfer students from other schools where they also rodeoed.
“Through rodeo, being on the team at Garden, I knew Hays had a program and I contacted Bronc,” Boaldin said.
Though students such as Boaldin are just over two weeks into practice, they are already forming goals for their upcoming season.
“I hope it’s making me a better roper,” Boaldin said.
Even as the students are working to improve their skills, Assistant Coach, Ross Russell, stresses that the program instills life lessons within members of the team.
“There’s so much to learn about even being in life, how you handle things, handle being in the arena with five or 10,000 people watching you,” Russell said. “Just how you handle your business from day-to-day.”
Team roper, Zeke Hall, echoes this sentiment as he prepares for his fourth season with the team.
“Spending time with Bronc and Ross, the coaches, has been such an important part in my life, especially learning from Bronc about rodeo and about life in general,” Hall said
The program’s benefits extend beyond just common life skills. Indeed, managing time in order to fit practice and rodeos into a busy student schedule requires students to develop a sense of balance and the ability to prioritize necessary tasks.
“Balancing schoolwork and rodeo, I struggled at first because you want to spend as much time as you can out here, roping and competing and trying to get better,” Hall said. “It can sometimes take away from schoolwork so just staying focused and making sure my priorities are in the right place and just taking care of business.”
Hall is not the only athlete currently developing this skill as Boaldin also strives towards success in this area.
“It’s definitely difficult but I just make sure I’m home at a good time to do my homework but I make sure that I get to practice every day,” Boaldin said.
Outside of these practical skills, being a member of the team holds even more value for students. For them, rodeo is a chance to form new relationships that develop during long hauls to rodeos and during overnight stays in small hotel rooms.
“Really, it’s a way to meet new people and have some fun,” calf roper and team roper, Colton Wagner, said.
Even as this family atmosphere begins to form, the coaches hope for success within the arena.
“This year, we’re really young so we’re going to try to build them up,” Russell said. “Next year would be a stretch to win a national championship but here in the next three or four years, we’re going to have a chance.”
With this end in mind, the coaches and team members continue to put in hours of daily practice at the Doug Phillips arena just outside of campus.
However, they work to build more than just athletic abilities. Rather, they strive to pair this skill with a growth of character that leads to success.
For Hall, this is possibly the most important role of the rodeo club in students’ lives.
“It’s taught me that anything is possible. Before I came here, I didn’t really rope or anything,” Hall said. “It’s just taught me that if you have something in mind that you want to do; if you have a goal, if you have a dream, then just put your head down and go do it and believe in yourself.”