USU’s rodeo teams put in long hours, suffer battered bones, and love every minute of it.
USU Rodeo Club’s annual Fall Stampede in September, Derek Wadsworth made his way up to the announcer’s booth at the Cache County Fairgrounds, removed his cowboy hat, and held a microphone as he offered a sincere prayer.
An Idaho native, Wadsworth would soon be out in the arena below him, competing in the tie-down roping and bull riding events for the Aggies. And while he requested in his prayer that the rodeo might proceed safely, Wadsworth also expressed gratitude for the opportunity of simply being able to be a cowboy in the 21st century.
“Thank you for our family, our friends, our horses, and our lifestyle,” he noted.
The lifestyle is a continuation of Western traditions dating back to the 1800s. And despite putting in long hours practicing and driving to events while risking the possibility of bodily harm, Wadsworth and his teammates are devoted – and maybe a little bit addicted – to living the rodeo life in college, even though there are few athletic scholarships and payouts are relatively small.
Overseeing the Aggie program this season is rookie head coach Colton Bair, a native of Cache Valley who was a standout rodeo performer for Utah Valley University during his college career.
“That’s actually an easy question: it’s a lot easier to compete,” Bair replied when asked if there was more stress with being a college rodeo athlete or a college rodeo coach. “I really enjoy competing, but that’s actually why I wanted to be the head coach, and why our assistant coaches, including my wife (Hilary Bair) want to help, as well.
“We love college rodeo, and this is just a way that we can give back.”
One of Bair’s assistants this season is Jeffery Hall, known to everyone as “Doc” Hall, the longtime veterinarian and animal, dairy and veterinary sciences professor. He stepped down as the rodeo club’s head coach last spring after 25 years in the saddle.
Through the fall portion of the 2021-22 season, Wadsworth was one of the top bull riders in the Rocky Mountain Region, thanks to winning the event at rodeos in Cedar City and Pocatello, Idaho. His teammate, Zayne Foy, walked away with the steer wrestling title at the event in Logan, while Macey Fillmore was among the region leaders in barrel racing and goat tying, and Alyssa Boyd was close behind in barrels.
Boyd, Fillmore, and Foy aim to return to the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming, where they competed last June for the Aggies. Utah State Eastern’s Autumn Snyder, a sophomore, was in Casper, as well, and got off to another good start in barrel racing during the fall.
Snyder was part of an Eagles’ team that finished 12th at the CNFR, the highest-ever finish for USU Eastern, under the guidance of coaches Leon McElprang and Monte Jensen. Clayson Hutchings and Austin Allred finished third in the saddle bronc and bull riding events, respectively, to lead the Eagles’ historic run at the national finals.
“This team has accomplished something tremendous,” McElprang declared. “I am proud of this team.”
McElprang and Jensen were both part of the program at what was then known as the College of Eastern Utah when the school dropped rodeo as a sport in 1994, but were instrumental in bringing rodeo back to Price about six years ago. And unlike USU Logan, the rodeo program at USU Eastern is a varsity sport that offers scholarships for athletes on its small, but talented, squad.
After performing in Rocky Mountain Region rodeos in the fall, both USU rodeo teams will take a few months off from competition before returning to arena action this spring.
And while the bruises and battered bones will likely have healed by then, you can be certain that the passion that rodeo athletes have for real-life horsepower will endure throughout the winter.
By Jeff Hunter ’96
All photos of the USU Rodeo Club and USU Eastern rodeo team by Levi Sim.