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The University of Arizona Celebrates 80 Years of College Rodeo!
College rodeo has some deep roots at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
by Merrill Ellis
In March of 1939, the University of Arizona had already held a couple of rodeos for their own students but this was the first year they competed against contestants from another college. Three Occidental College students came to take part! So, come March 16, 2019, the university rodeo will commemorate its 80th home rodeo at the Tucson Rodeo Grounds.
Back in 1937, Bill Felts, a sophomore, persuaded the student body president that a rodeo was a good idea so college rodeo at the University of Arizona was already a reality at the time the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association was coming into being in 1948. Although the U of A rodeo team was one of the first groups to help form and support the NIRA they did not send a team to the First College Finals in 1949. The 70th Anniversary of the First College National Rodeo is a milestone also being celebrated in 2019.
Nine NIRA national champions have come from the Tucson school: Gerry Bishop, 1960 Bareback Riding; Sonny Ehr, 1962 and 1963 Steer Wrestling; Wendy Bryan, 1972 and 1973 Goat Tying; Joe Parsons, 1978 Tie Down Roping; Linda O’Neal, 1982 Goat Tying; Clay Parsons, 1983 Tie Down Roping, and Kelly Kay, 1985 Goat Tying. In 1973, the Women’s Team brought home the championship.
That is the past…for the future let Rodeo Team President Sarah Nelson tell us what is happening now!
“Our team consists of 13 individuals this year and we are quickly gaining more interest. We had a shift in advisors and this is our second year with Sam Garcia and Mandie Dunham as our advisors. They have been absolutely amazing and have helped get our club back on its feet. Although we don’t have coaches, they help us with whatever we need, whether it be a place to practice or help with anything in or out of the arena.”
“Being president of the team, I get to help in the recruitment of new members and fundraising. My goal for this year is to get recognition from the University to be considered a “sports club” which would allow us funding from the school and possibly get us a coach. Another goal I have for this year is to be able to get enough funding to award scholarships in the future. I am working to put on barrel racing and team roping jackpots in the Tucson area.”
“We received funding to build 20 brand new stalls at our practice facility at the U of A feedlot, which have been built by the University maintenance team. Our next goal is to finish off the arena so we can have formal practices and get steers and calves for practice.”
“We currently have four of our members sitting among the top 15 in the region: Jacob Auza, team roping heeler sitting 5th in the region, roping with Central Arizona College’s Wyatt Kent; Halle DeWitt, 8th in barrel racing and 2nd in breakaway roping; Sarah Nelson, 8th in breakaway roping; and Alexandra Jeffers-Sample, 16th in breakaway.”
“Personally, I compete in the breakaway, team roping (heeler) and barrel racing. I am a fourth year NIRA member and I am a senior at the University of Arizona. I came in as a transfer, having received my Associates Degree at West Hills College in Coalinga, California.”
With a leader like Sarah Nelson, I predict we will be hearing a lot from the University of Arizona Rodeo Team. They are keeping the tradition of U of A rodeo begun by Bill Felts back in 1937 and building on it!