courtesy of SWTJC Rodeo Alumni As Southwest Texas Junior College in Uvalde, Texas celebrates their 60th Anniversary as a National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) team, […]
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Meet the Members – NIRAA Reunion
By Sharon Adams
Seven decades of college rodeo experiences, stories and history were the highlights of the 24th Annual Reunion of the NIRA Alumni in Casper, Wyoming during the College National Finals Rodeo. Honorees ranged from Ben Londo, 2005 All-Around and Bareback Champion to Tommy Kuiper who competed at the First Finals in 1949. This year, 2015, we attempted to round up all the folks we could find from the years ending in “five” and all the founders of college rodeo, as well as those first competitors.
Tommy Kuiper returned from service in the Navy in WWII, and while a student at Colorado A&M, competed in the first college finals at the Cow Palace in San Francisco in 1949. Kuiper and his wife have been married for 69 years and live in Wyoming.
1955 brought us Sonny Sikes of Sam Houston State. He was the National Champion in Calf Roping and Team Roping and the long time Executive Director of the NIRA. This was the 67th year of college rodeo. Sonny has been present in and out of the arena for sixty of those years.
John Gee, Colorado A&M, went to the finals in Lake Charles, Louisiana, in 1955. He came away with a 2nd place In Steer Wrestling and a 3rd in Bull Riding. A veterinarian, Gee makes his home in Montana.
Sharon Fouts, Washington State and Walla Walla Community College, competed in Breakaway Roping and Goat Tying in 1975, also 1974, and 1977. She was to come in third in the All-Around each of those years. Fouts has been a rodeo secretary for the Northwest Region and the PRCA. Nineteen seventy five was also the year that Butch Bratsky, president of the NIRA Alumni, was a member of the Championship Team from
Montana State University.
Paul Sandal, Sheridan College, won the Saddle Bronc Championship at the Finals in Bozeman in 1995. Sandal and his wife Shanna live in South Dakota.
Ben Londo, now the coach at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, won the Bareback and All-Around titles at the college finals in 2005. He gave the attendees a look into the workings of a large rodeo program.
Pat Williams-Harter came to the reunion to present the first Stan Harter Memorial Scholarship. The award, $1000, went to Ava Rankin of Miles City Community College in Montana. At the same time, Pat was presented with a beautiful Maynard buckle honoring her husband as Alumnus of the Year for 2015.
This reunion was small in number but strong in the appreciation that all those present had for how important college rodeo was in their lives and how vital it is to “keep the tradition alive.” Some of those we had the pleasure of meeting for the first time are Dolly Hughes, Sam Cordes, John and Sharon Fouts, Veryl Prokop and Art Parham.
This year, the Alumni gave out some new scholarships. We have always given the Man and Women Rookie of the Year scholarships. When the NIRA lost a major sponsor the Alumni stepped up and gave team scholarships to the fourth place teams. Thanks to the hard work and generosity of the board and many former contestants, this year we were able to give Rookie awards in every event.
Dick Claycomb, Harlan Schott, and Larry Burgess are new members of the Board of Directors of the Alumni. We have already begun planning for 2016! Next year will be the 25th anniversary of the NIRA Alumni. We will be looking for the contestants and teams from all the years ending in 6: 1956, 1966,1976, 1986, 1996, and 2006. Know someone? Get in touch with any member of our board.
A special thanks to Jacek of Video Works of Casper and Beth of Silver Tabbed Photography of Douglas, Wyoming, for their services.