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Buckin’ And Ropin’ At Murray

Murray State University (MSU) has a proud tradition of academics and athletics. U.S. News & World Report and Forbes consistently rank it among the top colleges in the south. But there�s something I need to share with you about my alma mater that you may not know. Murray State is the home of Kentucky�s only inter-collegiate rodeo team. These daring athletes have been bull riding, calf roping, steer wrestling, barrel racing, and bronc riding since the team was established in 1976.

Slow talkin’ J.D. Van Hooser was a roper and bronc rider for the Murray State Racers from 1986 to 1990. Now this Caldwell County native has come full circle as the MSU rodeo coach. Van Hooser says it’s quite an honor to be coach after his own history with the team. But he quickly turned our conversation toward the approximately 40 young women and 20 young men who are on the team now. He told me how proud he is of his talented students who play a dual role as individual contestants competing for points, and as a team competing for their university.

Kentucky�s only college rodeo team and the easternmost in the country doesn�t mean mediocrity, not by a country mile. The team wins events often and as individuals, and many of Murray�s rodeo stars have gone on to the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming. Austin Joseph of Marshall County was ranked 20th in the nation in college rankings this year. He�s already competing on the professional level.

Most of these cowgirls and cowboys have prior rodeo or competitive riding experience, but not all, says coach Van Hooser. If a student has the desire and the athletic ability, he or she will be given a chance. In this sport, athletic advantage doesn’t rely on size or height as it might in other sports. Both men and women in this sport (with the exception of steer wrestlers) tend to be small, having good balance that comes with a lower center of gravity.

Soon after classes begin in the fall, Murray State’s rodeo team is back in the ring competing in the Ozark region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. Each October, Murray State hosts the Racer Roundup Rodeo Competition at William “Bill” Cherry Agricultural Exposition Center, just off campus. About 14 colleges and more than 250 contestants will be there buckin’, ropin’, and flyin’ off the saddle in this great American sport, reminiscent of the Wild West. This boot scootin’ alumnus will be there in the grandstands, proudly cheering on my MSU rodeo team. I’ll be wearing my favorite cowboy hat and a belt buckle as big as Texas.


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