Rodeo team’s demise disappoints fans, riders

Published 7:36 pm Monday, March 17, 2014

Troy University’s decision to discontinue its men and women’s rodeo programs at the end of the current season is “heartbreaking” for many of those close to the rodeo program.

Angela Smith, whose son, Patrick Smith, died as the result of an accident at a PCA rodeo in Tennessee in 2002 said for her, the decision is like losing her son all over again.

“The rodeo team at Troy University was a dream of Patrick’s, and he worked along with others to make it a reality,” she said.

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The Troy University Rodeo Team was organized in the fall of 2002 following Smith’s death. A perpetual scholarship was established in his memory.

“I was so disappointed to hear that the rodeo programs were going to be discontinued,” Angela Smith said. “I know what rodeo meant to Patrick, and what it means to other young people. Rodeo gets in their blood. Rodeo is a sport just like football and baseball, and young people need to have an opportunity to participate. Troy University was giving them that chance.”

Smith said although she doesn’t know the reasons behind the decision to discontinue the rodeo programs, she would like for the university to give the programs one more year.

“Whatever the problem is or the problems are, I would hope the university would reconsider and give the programs another year. Probably, most supporters of the programs were like me and didn’t realize there were problems. We worked together to bring rodeo to Troy University. Working together we can keep in going.”

Troy University Athletic Director John Hartwell announced on March 5 that the university will discontinue the rodeo programs at the end of the current season citing revenue, expenses, number of participants and risk management as the primary factors.

Cliff Toliver, who coached the Troy University Rodeo Team for four years, ending in 2007, said the team could have as many members as it wanted and could be successful.

“We had between 30 and 40 members and the teams were very successful,” Toliver said. “The last year I was there, we had a kid who won nationals and our women’s team finished first in the Ozark Region and our men’s team was second. The rodeo kids are out there, and it’s disappointing to see the program go.”

Toliver said program ups and downs are normal with coaching changes.

“But the rodeo team brings kids to Troy University that might not come otherwise,” he said. “The rodeo team at Troy offers opportunities for kids in the South because it keeps college affordable for them while providing them with an opportunity to compete. Troy could continually be atop of the Ozark Region, and I hate to see the programs go. Rodeo is something extra that Troy University offers and that’s another way it stands apart from other universities.”

Joy Brunson, a former member of the Troy University Rodeo Team (2004-2007) said she was heartbroken when she heard the rodeo program is coming to an end. She thinks the decision was premature.

“It was almost like a part of home was going to be gone forever,” Brunson said.

“After high school I stayed home for a year trying to decide where I should go and what I needed to do. I wanted to continue my rodeo career, but I didn’t want to attend a mediocre agriculture school just to rodeo.

“I felt like Troy definitely offered the best academic options, while providing the opportunity to continue my rodeo career. I treasure the relationships I made at Troy, not just with other rodeo team members, but the community. Troy was so much more than a

college town, it feels like home.”

Brunson said she has fond memories of the late Dr. Don Hines who helped organize the Troy University Rodeo Team.

“Dr. Hines truly loved the rodeo team, and what it offered to students and the university. He and Dr. Jean Laliberte were our biggest supporters and cheerleaders. Dr. Hines would be truly saddened to know the rodeo program is going to be discontinued.”

Brunson said she believes college rodeo is on the upswing and maybe ending the rodeo program is “extremely premature.”

Troy University currently competes in the Ozark Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. Nineteen student-athletes between the two programs are participating, nine of which receive scholarship funds. Hartwell said the university will honor all of its scholarship commitments to the current members of the rodeo teams.

“We certainly understand the situation our student-athletes on the rodeo teams are in with this decision,” he said. “We will make every effort to accommodate them whether they choose to remain at Troy and finish their degrees or transfer to another school to finish their rodeo careers.”

Former head coach Josh Simmons resigned in December and has been replaced on an interim basis by Will Bradley, who will coach the team for the remainder of the season.