courtesy of SWTJC Rodeo Alumni As Southwest Texas Junior College in Uvalde, Texas celebrates their 60th Anniversary as a National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) team, […]
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Meet the Member: Sam Cordes
By Sharon Adams
Like many a young man growing up in South Dakota in the 60’s, Sam Cordes wanted to be a cowboy like Casey Tibbs. But there was only one Casey Tibbs and life took Sam in other directions. He became a professor and administrator at four different universities over the course of his career but he still needs his “rodeo fix” from time to time.
Cordes writes, “When I took my first position at Penn State University I stopped competing. However, rodeo was in an expansion phase in the East due to the Urban Cowboy movie. Unlike in the West, there were few former competitors who understood the sport. So I found myself in demand as a rodeo judge in amateur rodeos in various states, including Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia. That was a fun gig. I was sometimes introduced as “A former bull rider and now professor, in other words, someone who has gone from riding the bull to shooting the bull.”
Sam grew up around Elm Springs, South Dakota, and graduated from high school in Sturgis. He went on to attend the University of Wyoming, South Dakota State University, and Washington State University receiving a Bachelor’s degree and a PhD in Agricultural Economics. It was at South Dakota State in Brookings that Sam became most active in college rodeo serving as treasurer of the SDSU Rodeo Club and as a member of the 1967 rodeo team which competed at the College Finals in St. George, Utah. One of his team members was Don Reichert, NIRA Bull Riding Champion in 1966 and again in 1968. During those years, Cordes rode bulls in amateur and smaller PRCA rodeos in South Dakota, Colorado, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon. A high point was covering a top NFR bull at a PRCA rodeo in St. Onge, SD.
“One of the funniest situations I remember from college rodeo was when a small feisty Angus bull escaped from the indoor facility at Kansas State University. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon and he surprised a number of people who were casually strolling campus. But his best decision was to enter a fraternity house while a formal social event was underway (the back door had been propped open because it was so warm.) You never saw so man finely dressed college students (men and women) lose all of their dignity and manners in such short order as they ran from the fraternity house, locked themselves in bathrooms, and tried to hide behind furniture! Fortunately, no one was injured. “
In 2014, Cordes organized a reunion of the SDSU rodeo team at the Jackrabbit Stampede, the college rodeo at Brookings. Many of the team members and rodeo club members attended, including Dr. H.L Hutcheson, former NIRA faculty director for the Great Plains Region.
“I continue to follow the sport of rodeo today and try to make it to one or two major rodeos each year or to a PBR event. I thoroughly enjoyed my first CNFR this year, especially the alumni group. My wife and I provided some travel support to help get the SDSU team to Casper and I had a great nephew who competed at the 2015 CNFR. I have additional great nephews and nieces now competing for different teams and hope to attend the CNFR in future years and cheer them on.”
Cordes’ career took him to Penn State University, University of Wyoming, University of Nebraska and finally to Purdue University in Indiana. It has been a long trek from Sturgis High School to Purdue and from Elm Springs to Chicago. Cordes has four adult children. Now retired but doing some consulting, Cordes and his wife Trish live in Chicago.