Story by Bryan Edwards, Contributing writer
In the past 14 years, the Murray State rodeo team has seen plenty of new faces, but there has been one face that has never changed. J.D. VanHooser, coach of the rodeo team, was born in Princeton, Kentucky, in 1968 and was highly involved with horses as a child, but he didn’t compete in rodeo competitions until he enrolled at Murray State.
“I was raised in a family with an agricultural background,” VanHooser said. “I didn’t get the opportunity to become a cowboy until I got to Murray State in 1986.”
VanHooser graduated from Murray State in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree and later returned to get a master’s degree in animal science and agriculture in 1992. He was a four-year veteran on the rodeo team as an undergraduate, competing in events like team roping and bareback horse riding. After he graduated, VanHooser was in the horse and cattle business in Texas and eventually moved into the oil business.
In 2003, the rodeo team coaching position opened up, and he decided to apply. VanHooser was hired as the coach and as a professor in the Agricultural Department. When he returned to Murray State, a lot had changed since he had been on the team. VanHooser said new facilities, equipment and new additions to the practice arena have really helped the team progress and helped practices run more smoothly and efficiently.
For the last 14 years, VanHooser has helped the rodeo team double in size.
“When I came back, the team consisted of 30 members,” VanHooser said. “Now we nearly have that many freshmen on the team this year.”
VanHooser also said that he helped the team grow to 70 members in 2013, but one thing he still would like to do as coach is expand on the team’s recruiting process.
“We’re still working on our recruiting,” he said. “I’m trying to set up recruiting trips so we can recruit more members.”
With 50 members this year, VanHooser does want to win, but the students’ progression on the field and their success in the classroom is what really matters to him, said assistant coach Jason Hopkins.
Hopkins and VanHooser have known each other for 20 years, and that relationship has successfully transferred to the practice arena.
“We are just like family, we see each other every day,” Hopkins said. “I really look forward to another season with him, and I think this will be a great year for us and the team.”
VanHooser and the rodeo team will be putting on many fundraisers and events to help fund the team this season, and the coach highly encourages everyone in the Murray State community to come out.
On Oct. 13, the rodeo team will be hosting the Ozark Regional Rodeo Competition at the William “Bill” Cherry Exposition Center.