By Tanner Hood
Dirt, hooves and bucking chutes filled the Ford Wyoming Center in Casper, Wyoming, as the University of West Alabama (UWA) celebrated three national titles at the College National Finals Rodeo June 9-17.
J.T. Ellison, Taycie Matthews and the women’s rodeo team all won national championships during the two weeks of festivities celebrating collegiate athletes living the cowboy way of life.
“Winning a team championship seemed almost unattainable, but winning three altogether was unimaginable,” said UWA Rodeo Team Head Coach Daniel Poole. “I encourage all our student athletes to work hard while always having integrity. That’s what it takes to win against this level of competition.”
That hard work helped the women’s team bring home the hardware. Teams are ranked based on points earned in individual events. Several cowgirls finished with enough points for UWA to beat its closest competitor by over 100 points and capture the school’s first team national championship since the 1971 football season.
In addition to helping the women’s team secure its title, Matthews claimed the fastest time in barrel racing. Barrel racing requires horse riders to run a cloverleaf pattern around three barrels in the quickest time possible. The contest helped the Wynne, Arkansas, native finesse skills she’ll use this fall while vying for a spot in the renowned National Finals Rodeo.
Rounding out UWA’s list of winners is Ellison from Calera, who maintained the fastest average time in steer wrestling. Steer wrestlers chase steers on horseback, jump off, grab them by the horns and wrestle them to their side in the fastest time possible. In an event where tenths of a second matter, Ellison outpaced his closest competition by more than a second.
It was a proud moment for UWA, Poole said.
“Western culture is increasing, and it couldn’t be more fitting for a rural school on this side of the Mississippi River to win national championships in rodeo,” Poole said. “Rodeo is a great family event and re-centers old school values we seem to be moving away from. I’m excited we’re able to do this in Alabama.”
Poole said donors and fundraisers are critical to the team’s success. The Sumter County Farmers Federation (SCFF) is one of the most generous, he added.
“We can’t thank the Sumter County Farmers Federation enough for their support,” Poole said. “The money goes directly to the program to buy new equipment and manage and upgrade facilities. As one of our longest and most faithful sponsors, it would be impossible to compete without the Farmers Federation.”
SCFF Past President Pat Buck attested to that faith and their support of UWA.
“The rodeo team brings in lots of local students and many from across the country,” Buck said. “The students, staff and faculty of the university are a big part of our community, and we’d do anything to support them. They’re the biggest supporter of this county through employment, so we always want to give back.”