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Rasslin' with Hard Times
Michael Finkel
May 30, 1994
Thanks to coach John Larick, Montana State's teams can return to top form
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May 30, 1994

Rasslin' With Hard Times

Thanks to coach John Larick, Montana State's teams can return to top form

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"I had believed we were going to be treated fairly, but once the administration decided to cut me out, that's when the worm turned," says Larick. "So I decided to hit the road like a Fuller Brush man." Larick got on the phone to his former team members and asked them to set up town meetings with local ranchers. His plan was to plead for steers to be earmarked specifically for the rodeo program. All the times he had treated his team like family paid off. The meetings were arranged quickly, and last spring Larick raced across the West selling his program.

The response was overwhelming. Despite the sour economy, pledges from ranchers poured in. Bozeman's local country radio station, KBOZ, started its own Save the Rodeo campaign, and fans throughout the state sent whatever they could afford, often as little as five dollars. By the time Larick's 60 days were up, on June 13, he had raised more than $100,000 in cash and livestock. The haul was enough to cover his teams' expenses, fund his athletes' scholarships and pay his own salary.

Catastrophe was averted, or so it seemed. The scramble for funding disrupted practice time, and at the 1993 national finals the Montana State women finished a respectable third, but the men's team, considered one of the favorites, placed a disappointing 15th.

This season, Larick was again forced to deal with financial problems. His herculean efforts raised a remarkable amount of money, but only enough to cover expenses for one season. "It was D day all over," says Larick. "I'd tapped my friends and alumni plumb out, and now I had to find more money."

Last week, in an 11th-hour effort to save his program, Larick met with Montana State's administration. The coach explained that if the university were to drop rodeo, attendance at the national finals would suffer, which, of course, would affect the school's finances because it hosts the event. He made his point. Montana State's president, Michael Malone, agreed to fund the program. "I don't think the administration truly understood our program," says Larick. "The athletic director is in a tough position. He is supposed to run men's and women's sports and do it under the guidelines of the NCAA. At a time when he needed to make cuts, rodeo was, and still is, the only non- NCAA sport supported by the school. So that was the place to cut. But the president and the vice president weren't that close to our finances. This was first time they had a chance to see the impact MSU rodeo has on the school in terms of the funding that we brought in."

Now that his teams can pay their bills, Larick expects to raise enough money to start an endowment fund that will guarantee Montana State rodeo's future. Of course the coach is delighted with the recent turn of events. But even as the demise of his program appeared likely, Larick remained optimistic. " Rodeo's been in my blood my whole life," he says, "and if there's one thing it's taught me, it's how to react quickly in a crisis."

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