Horseplay: Colorado Mesa rodeo team aims to renew success
Jake Voris and his horse broke from the starting gate quickly in pursuit of the racing steer. But they didn’t keep enough speed to stay alongside the steer long enough for Jake to dive from the saddle and catch the steer by the horns, much to the dismay of hazer Jimmy Allen.
“You’ve got to ride that horse and keep after him,” Allen told Voris. But he wasn’t too hard on Voris, a California native who had hoped to play baseball at Colorado Mesa University until an illness sidelined him. Voris took up rodeo instead even though he had almost no experience with rodeo, or even horses, before joining the Colorado Mesa University rodeo team.
Allen speaks with more than a little authority. He has competed in professional steer wrestling contests — or bulldogging, as he prefers — for a number of years. Back in 1995, he was a member of what was then the Mesa State College rodeo team, competing in steer wrestling, calf roping and team roping. Now, he is in his second year as coach of the CMU rodeo team, working with academic adviser Kevin Bates to rebuild a rodeo program that has seen its ups and downs since the late 1970s.
“We’re getting bigger and I’m really pushing it,” Allen said. “I’d like to see everyone in this area get more interested in college rodeo.”
Locals will have an opportunity to watch and learn more about college rodeo April 12-13, when CMU hosts the final collegiate rodeo of the season for the Rocky Mountain region. Team and individual champions will be crowned at that event, which is to be at the Mesa County Fairgrounds.
Before then, however, CMU still has two other collegiate rodeos to compete at, one in Heber City, Utah, and one in Rangely.
“I think we’re sitting eighth out of 10 teams in the Rocky Mountain Region right now,” Allen said. “The thing that hurts us is that we’re small. We’ve only got eight team members traveling with us, and some of the teams we’re up against have as many as 20.”
But Allen and Bates agreed the program is growing. Bates has been involved with the CMU rodeo team for eight years, and he recalls one year when the team only had one team member traveling to rodeos.
Last year, the team had only a handful of members. This year, there are people like Haley Walker of Idaho, Sabrina Walker of Denver and Brittany Gavegan of Loma, who compete in multiple events. Then there is team roper Wiley Button of Steamboat Springs, who was sitting No. 8 among headers in the region.
Voris, who is riding the first horse he ever owned, admits he still has much to learn about steer wrestling, but he is doing so with Allen’s guidance. Recently, he recorded his first-ever official time in a steer-wrestling competition.
Allen and Bates anticipate an even larger team next year, with several people from out-of-state saying they’re eager to join, and a couple of young men who ride rough stock (broncs and bulls) who were unable to travel with the team this year expected to be there when the 2013-14 season begins in September.
All of the collegiate team members provide for their own horses and travel. And they have been fund-raising to cover the cost of hosting the rodeo here later this month, the first collegiate rodeo in Grand Junction in more than a decade.
Tickets for the CMU rodeo will be available at the gate or can be purchased by contacting Kevin Bates at 260-3851 or Brittany Gavegan at 640-0720. Ticket prices are $8 for adults and $5 for students. Children ages 6 and under are free.