College Rodeo EWC rodeo team draws students nationally
Torrington – “We’ve had a lot of great kids come and go,” says Eastern Wyoming College (EWC) rodeo team coach Jake Clark of the students and rodeo athletes he’s coached for 13 years at the Torrington junior college.
Today Clark says the team, which has been a part of the college since the 1980s, sustains around 40 students, a number that has reached as high as 80 members, but he notes that 40 to 50 is more manageable, giving him more time to give individual coaching to team members while still maintaining some depth.
Clark grew up in a rodeo family as the youngest of four, so he says he was seasoned at an early age, roping at age five or six and riding calves. After rodeoing from both ends of the arena in his home state of Nebraska through high school he attended EWC for college.
Clark says a lot of his kids do recruiting for him by word of mouth. “They’ll tell their friends it’s a great place to come to school, and that’s the first contact,” he notes, adding that he occasionally attends high school rodeos as well. “Most recruiting deals with watching videos, the rodeo resume and grades.
However, he adds you never know about a person’s skills. “I’ve had students without a lot of success in high school come here and have an outstanding college career. You never know when a student will prime, so we don’t just look at the rodeo resume, but the whole person.”
EWC has a scholarship program for its rodeo team, and Clark says in college rodeo there’s every variation on skill level, saying he doesn’t turn students away as long as their grades are good. “We let them rodeo and try to do them some good while they’re here,” he says.
Students come to Torrington from Pennsylvania, Arizona, Montana and all over the country, says Clark. “They come for the rodeo program, and to be in Wyoming,” he says. “They want to come out West and learn the Western way of life, and I admire that. I think it’s a gutsy move for them to come that far to school and learn something new.”
Most students bring their own horses to Torrington, boarding them at one of several private facilities, practicing at the covered arena on the Goshen County Fairgrounds, where the rodeo stock is also kept. “The Goshen Pavilion is a great asset to our team, and it would be tough to recruit without it,” says Clark.
“I’ve lost count of our national qualifiers, which is a good thing,” says Clark of the team’s success over the years, estimating he’s had 65 or 70. “That’s what I like to see, and we’ve had several teams qualify.”
Several EWC rodeo team members have gone on to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, Nev., including Jake Rinehart and Dean Gorsuch, who made the 2009 Finals.
“Those guys will come back and help with practice, and it’s nice to have the alumni support from them and the many others that stop in and help,” says Clark.
Of practices without visiting coaches, Clark says dealing with several different events with different opinions and theories can be challenging, but he says he tells his students if there’s a question he can’t answer they’ll find it, or find someone who can.
In early December the team had shut down for finals, planning to begin practice again in January for the five spring rodeos, the first of which will be hosted by EWC.
“We have an outstanding group this year and they’re a lot of fun and I’m sure some will be in Casper next summer,” says Clark of the 2010 College National Finals Rodeo. “Some freshmen are really strong, which is always fun. We could have two or seven up there, depending on how the second half of our season goes.”
“It’s rewarding to see these students grow in competition and also in their whole outlook on life, and to see them go on and be successful in whatever they do,” adds Clark. “It’s a great sport, and a great place for the young adults to be, as well as good incentive to stay in school and get an education.”
Of the students’ competition, Clark says, “I try to guide as much as I can, but in the end they have to nod their head and compete by themselves. I’m looking forward to the rest of our season.”
Christy Hemken is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.