For half a century or more the new colleges of the old West—many of which were wrenching themselves into new educational patterns based on ranching and mining—have submissively copied the traditions of eastern universities. Schools which lusted wistfully for mandolin music and ivy before World War I, turned to high-pressure football afterward; the Yale-Harvard boat race, the Dartmouth ski carnival, and even the Oxford-Cambridge rugger match have their reflections west of the Mississippi. But the other day, the University of Wyoming's big new fieldhouse was the scene of a sport spectacle as peculiarly Western as a branding iron: Wyoming's annual regional intercollegiate rodeo with scores of Stetsoned college cowboys and tightly denimed college cowgirls from all over the Rocky Mountain states.
The big show—the first indoor rodeo, amateur or professional, in the history of the state—was something to impress the most weathered rancher and some 2,000 of Laramie's 15,000 citizens turned out to cheer its two night performances. A college rodeo clown tempted fate by baiting huge and belligerent Brahma bulls in the open arena and repeatedly saved his skin by leaping into a rubber-padded oil drum. The college cowgirls not only rode cutting horses in zigzag barrel races, but even engaged in a female substitute for calf roping—they leaped from the saddle with "piggin' strings" in their teeth to tie the legs of a small but extremely canny goat.
Their male teammates did battle with more than 80 head of genuinely big-time rodeo animals, haled for the occasion from top Stock Contractor E. A. (Buzzy) Hoover, and exhibited hair-raising hardihood and recklessness, if sometimes less than professional skills, as they came out of the chutes on Brahma bulls and bucking horses. And the show ended with a melee calculated to depopulate Wyoming's Greek-letter organizations—18 fraternity boys, divided into teams of three, simultaneously saddled six plunging Brahma cows in one narrow area of tanbark. Half a dozen of them rode the indignant monsters the length of the arena—an adventure in precariousness which left no doubts at all as to the durability of Wyoming youth.
"Git Western!" an announcer shouted over the loudspeaker system while the bruising fun went on. "C'mon, folks. Git Western! Git Western!"
He might have saved his breath. Western colleges are gitting more Western by the minute and Wyoming's rodeo (won by Colorado A & M, with Brigham Young University second, Wyoming third, Casper Junior College fourth and Montana State fifth) was a dramatization of that fact. Student rodeoing, which had its feeble beginnings in Texas and the Rockies before World War II, has spread like a grass fire in the years since; today even high schools have caught the fever, and there are rodeo clubs and intercollegiate teams in more than 50 colleges in the Southwest, the Rockies, in California, Oregon, Washington and even on the fringes of the Midwest.
Intercollegiate rodeo competition, however, is not intercollegiate sport in the usual sense. A good many college student bodies now offer rodeo teams some slight assistance—Wyoming not only turned over its fieldhouse last week but underwrote the expenses of the big show. But rodeoing is still owned and operated, stirrup, cantle and lariat, by the college cowboys and cowgirls themselves.
They represent college rodeo clubs rather than colleges. They are governed, not by college athletic rules, but by their own National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association, organized at Texas' Sul Ross State Teachers College and religiously patterned after the professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. They punish members for rodeo sins (the most horrible: failing to make a ride after entering) by blackballing the offender for six months and sometimes fining him as well. They set their own standards of scholastic eligibility (a C average) and compete in their own regions (Pacific, Southwest, Southeast and Rocky Mountain) rather than in conferences for the right to enter an annual national rodeo (tentatively planned for next month at McNeese State College, Lake Charles, La.).
ROCKY MOUNTAIN WALL STREET
Their governing officers are bothered not one whit by the fact that many a college cowboy and even some college cowgirls work their way through school by riding and roping in professional rodeos in the summer—the pros automatically become amateurs again when they rejoin college teams. An amateur rodeo is simply one in which the kitty has not been padded by a promoter. Under NIRA rules college competitors must pay entry fees of at least $10 for every event they enter, and the money must be offered in prizes; thus college cowboys not only battle for points and ornate silver belts but for hard cash as well.
The cowboys have no apologies at all. A great many of them are husky, rough-and-ready, ranch-bred agricultural students who regard the rodeo as Yale men once regarded Wall Street. A lot of them are top students—a majority of Brigham Young's team is on the college honor roll—but they tend to talk an "ain't been rode, ain't been throwed" brand of English and wear their big hats, boots and levis as campus garb. They are as dedicated to form as cricketers and since rodeos have always offered prize money they have no intention of changing the pattern, no matter what the AAU might have to say.