Photo by Jim Brewer
UAM Rodeo Team Member Laura Kennedy ropes a calf at a recent competition.
It’s early in morning, and Laura Kennedy’s breath is misting the air in the barn as she saddles her horse. She jumps on and walks her horse in to the arena to begin their daily routine. An hour later she unsaddles her horse, puts grain and hay out, then jumps in her car and heads for class.
Laura is a member of the UAM rodeo team and for her and the members of the team this is a typical day.
Although the rodeo team is not widely known on campus it has become one of the most successful teams in the state. UAM is a member of the Ozark Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. The team goes head to head with many of the top rodeo teams in the nation.
Even though many have not heard of college rodeo it is not a new thing. It has been around for over fifty years. “Preserving Heritage Through Collegiate Rodeo” has been its theme over those fifty years. Today, those efforts are being made in over 100 rodeos a year. The rodeos allow for 3,500 students and 137 colleges and universities to take part in a fascinating activity.
Most of the students on the team have ridden horses all their lives, and for them college rodeo was a way to take their competition to a higher level. Although they are competitors, they are also full time students with a variety of different majors and minors that require a lot of work. There are at least six college rodeos a semester and most leave on a Thursday and don’t return until Saturday or Sunday. During the week there are daily practices that can last several hours, leaving very little time for studying.
Laura Kennedy, a three year team member and accounting major says, “ It’s hard to keep up with your classes and get all of your homework done when your constantly busy and missing school.”
According to coach Jolyn Wells, “Being on the rodeo team is challenging, but it teaches you hard work and dedication that will help you later in life.”
There is a rodeo booster club, which is open to anyone interested in the activity. It helps raise money for scholarships, travel funds, facilities and equipment. College rodeo is fairly new to UAM, but thanks to the coaching and hard work of Jolyn Wells and the rodeo club both the team and the facilities are improving each year.
The rodeo team now has two barns, a lighted practice arena on campus, and several turnout pens for the students’ horses. The team now consists of twenty students, and Coach Wells is hoping to increase that number in the coming years.
To the average fan, football is a game that starts in August and ends in November, but for the players it is a year round event. Student assistant coach Bert Hopgood explained the off-season program and the benefits of it.
Coach Bert said, “The players are working out and running four times a week. They also have to attend a daily study hall.” The coaching staff offers three different times for players to come in and do their workout each day. This is done so that the players can fit their forty five-minutes to an hour workouts into their daily schedule. There is only one running time and that is at 4:00 p.m.
Bert then explained the benefits of the off-season program. He said, “The lifting improves the player’s strength and makes him better able to compete. The lifting and stretching also helps the players avoid injury, because the stronger and more flexible a muscle, is the less likely it is to be injured.” He then explained, “The running regiment was to build on the athlete’s speed and endurance. These are key factors in the sport of football.”
The players use the spring as a chance to build their bodies up for the following season and also to let their bodies heal from the past season. The latter is the case with senior defensive end Robert Putnam who has to have minor shoulder surgery. Putnam said, “The spring is the best time to prepare yourself for the next season, but it is hard because you’re working your butt off, and you still have almost six months before you play.”
Putnam states, “A lot of freshmen who quit the team usually quit in the spring due to the intense workouts and conditioning.”
One final aspect of the spring football series is spring ball. This allows the players to go through full practices, teaching them the fundamentals at every position, and it gives the coaches a good idea who will play certain positions the following season.
Coach Hopgood said, “Spring ball is like a tryout for every player to earn a position. There is a lot of unseen labor and time that goes in to those eleven Saturdays that the fans get to enjoy every year.”
When asked about the 2004 UAM Boll Weevil football team, Bert said, “They are young, but they have a chance to be very competitive in the Gulf South Conference.”