Top Hand – Mayce Marek, a student at Wharton County Junior College received this year’s Walt Garrison Top Hand Award during the 2021 College National Finals Rodeo. Also pictured are her coach Sean Amestoy (left) and Roger Walters, NIRA Commissioner (Right).
- CNFR photo by Jackie Jensen
A major component of the 72nd College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) June 6 -12, 2021 was awarding thousands of dollars in scholarships to members of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA).
Winners during the competition earn scholarships, and special scholarships are awarded to NIRA members. The total given through the seven days of competition is over $150,000.
The Walt Garrison Top Hand Award is a $2,500 scholarship awarded for loyalty, determination, integrity and leadership. Each of the NIRA’s 11 geographic regions nominate one rodeo athlete for this award then one winner is selected from those nominees. Garrison, a former professional steer wrestler and professional football player with the Dallas Cowboys, started numerous scholarship programs.
This year’s Top Hand is Mayce Marek of Arp, Texas, who just completed her sophomore year at Wharton County Community College in Texas and plans to continue her education this fall at Texas A & M Commerce where she will major in agricultural business. Marek was the Southern Region’s nominee and competed in goat tying at her first CNFR last week.
The Harry Vold “Duke of the Chutes” Scholarship is presented in honor of the distinguished and respected stock contractor’s longtime association with college rodeo. Madison Deck, a West Virginia native and pre-vet student at Murray State University, received this $2,500 scholarship. Deck, who competes in barrel racing, maintains a 4.0 grade point average.
The $2,500 Shane Drury “Nothin’ But Try” Scholarship is given each year to an NIRA member who exhibits Drury’s never-give-up attitude in the face of adversity. Drury, a bull rider who competed at the CNFR and was part of a men’s championship team, died after a battle with cancer.
This year’s winner Brandy Schaack of Hyannis, Nebraska, competed at her second CNFR for the University of Wyoming. In 2019 when she was a junior, Schaack went through serious health challenges. She had a debilitating bout with ulcerative colitis in the fall of 2018, then in the spring suffered from leg pain. The cause was a blood infection normally seen in horses and called “strangles”. While undergoing surgery for that, doctors discovered she had stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma that had spread to her liver, bones and throughout her body. As soon as she recovered from leg surgery, she began chemotherapy and two years later she was back at the CNFR in the breakaway roping.
Three other “Nothin’ But Try” $500 scholarships have been established since Shane Drury awarded the first in 2006. The Lee Akin scholarship went to Cheyenne Bartling of Oklahoma State University. Tyree Cochran of Cal Poly State University – San Luis Obispo received the Betty Gayle Cooper Ratliff scholarship, and the Levi Wisness scholarship went to Tayle Brink of Black Hills State University.
The John J. Smith Scholarship in honor of longtime NIRA commissioner John Smith is for NIRA members pursuing a graduate degree at an accredited institution. This year’s winner of the $2,000 scholarship is McKenzie Frizzell of Cochise, Arizona. She competed at the 2021 CNFR in breakaway roping and is a spring graduate of New Mexico State University with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural business and economics.
The winners of the Patty Skogan Memorial Scholarships were chosen from nominees from each NIRA region who show determination, grit and kindness while overcoming obstacles and demonstrating a welcoming attitude. Tyree Cochran, a 2021 animal science graduate of Cal Poly – San Luis Obispo who qualified for her first CNFR in team roping, and Kamryn Duncan, a sophomore early childhood education major at McNeese State University who competed at her first CNFR in breakaway roping and goat tying, received these awards.
The $1,000 George Howard Memorial Scholarships honor the life of Howard who spent 35 years as a college rodeo coach – first as an assistant at Dodge City Community College and Southwestern Oklahoma State University and later as head coach at the University of Wyoming. Howard’s teams qualified for the CNFR every year and he coached seven national championship teams and 27 individual champions.
Two scholarships were given in 2021. Owen Gustafson, from Browning, Montana, a senior ranch management major at Dickinson State University, and Colton Crawford, from Walsh, Colorado, a senior public relations and mass communication major at Missouri Valley College, were the recipients.
As a timed-event athlete, Gutafson also received the $1,000 NIRA Alumni Stan Harter Memorial Scholarship. Harter competed for Arizona State University and was the 1966 NIRA champion in both calf roping and ribbon roping. He went on to a successful professional rodeo career and was a long-time supporter of college rodeo who served as the alumni president.
No one has a background in college rodeo that is as extensive as Sonny Sikes. He competed and won national titles in the team roping and tie-down roping for Sam Houston State University. He went on to coach there and from 1962 through 1979, he and his wife, Joanne, served as the NIRA Executive Secretary.
Because of his dedication and passion for college rodeo, the NIRA started the Sonny Sikes Pioneer Award. This year’s winner is Jade Boote of Binford, North Dakota. Boote, a senior secondary education major at Dickinson State University, competed at her second CNFR in breakaway roping. She has served as the Great Plains Region Student Director and taken on several leadership roles.
Fundraising efforts for these awards are ongoing through the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Foundation and the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Alumni Association.