History, culture, community in SDSU sport club

SDSU rodeo, 62 years in the making, continues to hold top spots in the national standings in both men’s and women’s while keeping a rich history. 

SDSU’s women currently sit second in the nation as the men sit third. These seedings are determined during the September-June season “half-time” over winter break. SDSU competes in 10 rodeos per season with five each in the fall and spring. 

College Rodeo, the sanctioning college rodeo body, is divided into 11 regions. Jackrabbit men and women both hold a No. 1 position for the Great Plains region. The region includes University of Wisconsin’s River Falls, North Dakota State University, Black Hills State University, University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Iowa State University among others. 

A total of 43 Jackrabbits have qualified for the College National Rodeo Finals (CNFR) in the past four years where the top three in each region at the end of the season automatically continue to the CNFR in June. 

Both SDSU men and women’s rodeo have either taken titles or rode in the region for the past three seasons. 

SDSU proudly hosts more than 10 of roughly 1,200 alumni who have continued on to a professional circuit. 

Coach Ronald Skovly attributes the team’s success to time management, a must-have with a team of 55 traveling and 20 additional non-traveling members riding among 10 events per both men and women. 

All of the team members in one arena at a time is un-realistic in terms of achieving a productive practice. Arena time is sectioned off throughout the afternoon on weekdays. Members put in many weekly hours to fine-tune their skills in preparation for facing regional rivals BHSU and Mitchell Tech. 

“Everybody works hard between me, the kids and everybody,” Skovly said. “It has paid off.” 

With a roster competitive in size to that of Jackrabbit football, coach Skovly does not recruit. The club attracts athletes my means of geographical location, scholarship, accomplishments and the university itself. 

South Dakota is the second most recruited-from state for rodeo due to the background of its hard working athletes. 

“We could have 100 kids just like that if we started sending out letters like the Southern schools down in Texas do,” Skovly said. 

Upon inception of SDSU Rodeo and College Rodeo, alike, in 1952, 50 students had shown up to the first meeting held in what is now the Agricultural Heritage Museum. Only four traveled at the time in contrast to today’s members coming from eight different states. 

The rodeo program has hosted no less than 40 travelers in the past 60 years. 

As an established program with funding and successes for over a half-decade, it appears that SDSU rodeo has the potential to make the transition from a club to a university sanctioned athletics program. 

College Rodeo hosts both club and university athletic programs. There are benefits and limitations to both sanctions. 

One benefit athletic programs see, lies in funding. With an average of 55 traveling members and 65 competition horses, team travel costs a total of roughly $20,000 annually. Horse boarding and practice facilities exceed $14,000 per year. All expenses are currently funded through individual team member fundraising and alumnus donations. 

Growing up around the team, coach Skovly holds an extensive 25 years of experience in rodeo. Skovly’s father, Leonard, managed the program in the 1970s. 

Skovly graduated high school from Estelline, S.D. in 1992 before continuing on to rodeo for SDSU where he roped calves and steers. His experience in the sport prior to SDSU entailed 4-H in high school, Little Britches, amateur and PCRA rodeos. After earning his professional card as a senior in high school, Skovly continues to compete. 

Skovly focuses his time solely on coaching and managing the program. In the past, coaches have taught biology and related courses. He feels that a coach needs to be able to focus on the coaching aspect given the risk involved. 

“There’s such a liability out there for team members on their own in a sport like rodeo,” Skovly said. “Coming from the high school, there’s team members who don’t know how dangerous some of the stuff is because they’ve always had mom or dad there.” 

The athletes have the opportunity to practice with dummies, mechanicals and completing their groundwork before practicing with live animals to lessen the risk. 

The Jackrabbits currently prepare for the 60th annual Jackrabbit Stampede, SDSU’ s only home rodeo of the year. 

Invitations are sent out to alumni and the community. Drawing a substantial crowd, SDSU athletes find the Stampede to be the season’s greatest challenge as the only home rodeo of 10. 

“I think that’s the only buckle I didn’t get in college,” Skovly said. “I never won the hometown Jackrabbit Stampede for some reason. [I] came second once or twice, but that’s part of rodeo.”

Home competition has it’s upsides in that the horses don’t have to travel. They are as prepared as they should be without the wear and tear of travel as they board in the comforts of their own stalls. 

A dance will be held at the location following the Stampede on Friday, April 4 where Dustin Evans, Ned LeDoux and the Good Times Band will be performing. 

The SDSU Jackrabbit 60th Stampede Rodeo is set to take place Friday, April 4 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, April 5 at 1 p.m.