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Cal Poly: Raising Rodeo Legends
story by Sage Marie Massey
Rodeo took California State Polytechnic University by storm on April 8, 1939 when 15 student athletes joined up to compete at the C Bar G Ranch near Victorville, California. Cal Poly has continued this cowboy tradition ever since. In 1949, Cal Poly joined the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA), sending its six-man team to the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) in San Francisco, CA. Cal Poly quickly achieved national recognition for the competitiveness of its rodeo teams.
One of the most winning colleges in the NIRA, Cal Poly’s rodeo program boasts 46 national titles and has produced more Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association World Champions, Wrangler National Finals Rodeo qualifiers, and ProRodeo Hall of Fame inductees than any other college rodeo program. Cal Poly’s legendary alumni include Greg Ward, Monty Roberts, Jack Roddy, Bob Tallman, Sharon Camarillo, Tom Ferguson, Chris Lybertt, John Jones Jr., Nolan Twisselman, and Billy Bugenig.
Cal Poly rodeo received another major boost when Cotton Rosser enrolled as an Animal Husbandry student in 1948. His enthusiasm for rodeo brought many hidden talents to the surface. Owner of the Flying U Rodeo Company, Rosser has dazzled rodeo audiences with extravagant grand entries, award-winning specialty acts, and quality stock for more than 60 years. In 1951, he was one of the founding students of what is known as the Poly Royal Rodeo. Built of chain-link fence and bailing wire, the modest Collet Rodeo Arena on the Cal Poly campus hosted more than 4,000 spectators in the rodeo’s inaugural year.
Today, Poly Royal is one of the largest intercollegiate rodeos in the world, thanks to Cal Poly’s rodeo coach and CNFR All-Around Cowboy Ben Londo. The rodeo attracts more than 15,000 spectators in Cal Poly’s Spanos Stadium, where the green grass is covered with plywood, dirt, and animals for two fast-paced exciting performances.
Aside from its impeccable rodeo reputation, Cal Poly remains one of the most prestigious universities on the West Coast. On average, 65,000 students submit applications to the school each year. Less than 30 percent are accepted. This “learn-by-doing, backwater institution” produces captains of industry from its Agriculture, Engineering, Architecture, and Business Colleges. Cal Poly offers students the unique opportunity to not only grow in the arena but academically as well. While society seems to forever be drifting from the cowboy lifestyle, rodeo’s timeless presence continues to grow and flourish at Cal Poly.
About the Author
My name is Sage Marie Massey, I am 21 years old and am a 4th generation Cal Poly student. I was immersed in the western heritage as a child, growing up on my family’s working cattle ranch, based just outside of Parkfield, CA. I learned how to ride a horse before I could walk and have continued to ride and compete in rodeos to this day. Cal Poly was my dream school as a child and today I am fortunate to be receiving an education and pursuing my rodeo career there.