Rodeo is a little known sport on campus, and member sophomore Kendall Gentry said she enjoys it that way.
“It is nice for not many people to know about us because we can just go to class and be seen as a normal student,” Gentry said.
In its 38th season as an organized sport, Murray State hosts the oldest rodeo in the state each year in October. Even with the history, the team still isn’t known to people who haven’t competed in it before, according to coach J.D. VanHooser.
“There are students, faculty and probably people in the community that don’t know we have a team,” VanHooser said. “It is an All-American sport, and Murray is very fortunate to have such a great group of students represent them.”
While the sport is listed simply as a club sport by the University, the rodeo team takes it seriously, competing in events during the year in hopes of making it to national competition.
“It is a very individual sport compared to other sports you see,” VanHooser said. “With the team concept, it presents certain challenges but brings the team closer.”
Joining the rodeo team is a unique process. Members must purchase a National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association membership card that allows them to compete.
According to VanHooser, this year’s team has 62 card members, with many who have participated in rodeo at some time previously.
“Some do it in high school or have come from a rodeo family,” VanHooser said. “Then there are some that show up each year who haven’t before and we try to help them learn about it.”
Practices for rodeo competitions take place three or four days per week at the West Farm Complex. At the complex, the team can hone its skills for upcoming events.
While rodeo is a team event, individuals compete for personal scores in hopes of making it to national competition in their event.
The top two teams in each region make it to the College National Final Rodeo. The top three individuals in each event, based on compiled scores, make it as well.
“Our students have two ways of qualifying for nationals, and it is something that makes rodeos each time more and more competitive,” VanHooser said.
Rodeo competitions are split into teams by gender, and at Murray State, the cowgirl team is currently in contention to make it to national competition. Sitting in third place in the Ozark Regional, VanHooser is confident that the cowgirls can move up and qualify for nationals.
“We have a strong group of ladies representing us this year,” VanHooser said. “If we can keep going like we have been, then I am quite confident we will make it to the College National finals.”
This weekend the team competed at Arkansas-Monticello, where the Murray State cowgirls finished in third place.
Sophomore Ellen Jarvis won her second breakaway roping event of the season to give the team 140 points with the win.
“She won a few weeks ago at Texarkana and to win again is great for her,” VanHooser said. “She has had some great weekends for us and it is moving her up individually as well.”
Another impressive performance was by Gentry in barrel racing. She moved into first place in the region and second place nationally with her score at Arkansas-Monticello.
“Kendall is a competitor and she expects to win each and every time,” VanHooser said.
While she said she is happy with her performances, Gentry said she is also proud of the efforts her teammates this year and is looking forward to the final push for nationals in their remaining four events.
The team is competing at Southern Arkansas today and Friday. The remaining competitions are at East Mississippi Community College, Northwest Mississippi Community College and UT Martin.
Story by Tom Via, Staff writer