UW champion menâ€™s rodeo team honored
Laramie – The only national champion men’s rodeo team in UW history will be inducted into the University of Wyoming Athletics Hall of Fame Sept. 4.
The 1961 Cowboys rodeo team was composed of Leon Cook, Jerry Kaufman, Jim Moore, Frank Shepperson, Al Smith and Fred Wilson, all of whom will be present to accept the recognition and all of whom grew up in Wyoming.
“I think it’s a great honor to be inducted into the Hall of Fame,” says Jim Moore, who was born and raised and still resides at Midwest. “We were the first team from Wyoming to officially win the championship.”
In 1959 the UW men’s rodeo team won the championship, but were later disqualified because of lacking member eligibility.
In the 1961 regional championships Jim Moore finished fifth in bareback riding, Fred Wilson was first in bareback riding and second in saddle bronc riding, Frank Shepperson was fifth in saddle bronc riding, Jerry Kaufmann was third in ribbon roping, Al Smith finished sixth in ribbon roping and Leon Cook was fourth in steer wrestling and fourth in saddle bronc riding.
As a team, the Cowboys ranked in the top two at the Regional Championships and earned a slot in the 1961 College National Finals Rodeo in Sacramento, Calif. There Moore finished third in bareback riding, Wilson was fourth in saddle bronc riding, Shepperson competed in five events, Smith was second in calf roping and fourth in ribbon roping and Cook placed in the steer wrestling, earning enough points to give Wyoming the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association team title.
Wilson went on to win the NIRA bareback riding championship in 1962, and Shepperson won the NIRA steer wrestling championship in 1964. All except for Cook went on to rodeo professionally. Shepperson won the PRCA World Champion Steer Wrestler in 1975. Kaufman won the Cheyenne Frontier Days steer roping championship in 1971.
“I really enjoyed rodeo in college, and it was a lot of fun,” says Moore. “We met a lot of good people and had a good time.”
Although organized high school rodeo didn’t come until later years, each of the team members was involved in rodeo during their high school years, whether it was through family members who were involved or, as in Jerry Kaufmann’s case, through his own motivation.
“I always wanted to be a team roper, that’s all I ever wanted to do and my family was not very supportive,” says Kaufmann of his entry into rodeo. “When I was 15 I started roping calves and I built an arena and had two or three calves and just kept going.”
“Rodeo’s what kept me in school,” says Moore. “I really didn’t care for school, and I went to a one-room school so I never did football or basketball. I come from a rodeo family where my father and uncles rodeoed, so I grew up around it.”
Wilson says he began to tag along with his brother – a bareback rider – as soon as he was old enough to drive. “I started riding a few, and got to the time where I could ride one,” he says. “I just got on everything they turned out that nobody else wanted, and that’s how I learned how.”
Wilson says the rodeos would pay mount money for someone to get on those horses, just to keep the performances going. “They’d usually pay about five dollars, and I got on a whole lot of them and finally learned how to do it,” he says.
“The best part of college rodeo was the people I met, more than anything,” says Kaufmann. “I met a lot of kids from different schools, and I’m still friends with a lot of those I went to school with.”
“We traveled more than they do now,” says Moore. “Most of the time we didn’t leave until Friday afternoon and we’d rodeo Saturday and Sunday and drive all night Sunday to get back for class Monday morning.”
Following college Moore roped steers and traveled extensively with teammate Kaufmann, who also roped steers. “We ran into Frank Shepperson a lot because he was bulldogging during the same era, and Fred Wilson was around riding bareback,” he says.
“It’s great to be inducted into the Hall of Fame,” says Kaufmann of the recognition. “I didn’t figure we’d every make it. A lot of college athletic programs don’t recognize rodeo as a sport, and it’s actually a pretty big professional sport.”
Christy Hemken is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.