Last weekend, Fresno State cowboys and cowgirls competed in the annual Fresno State
Bulldoggers Rodeo hosted by the team at the Clovis Rodeo grounds.
Out of the program’s 44 athletes, nine placed in the top 10 qualifiers during Saturday’s light showers and advanced to Sunday’s final round.
Four bulldogs—Colton Campbell, Bodi Dodds, Jacob Bairos and Cole Petersen competed in the tie down finals, with Petersen ultimately winning first place. Cowgirls Brittany Dias and Jamie Giefer competed in Sunday’s breakaway final, while cowboys Bairos and Wacey Barrington competed in steer wrestling. In team roping, the co-ed bulldog duo of Giefer and Barrington had a good run, but were bested by teammate Campbell, who placed first as a header with a heeler from West Hills Community College. Two cowgirls, Cassidy Steenbock and Meagan Kautz, competed in the barrel racing final round, with Kautz taking first place.
Team president and Fresno State senior barrel racer Katie McDougald said she was proud of her teams showing over the weekend and has high hopes for their upcoming rodeo performances at Lassen College (March 30-31), Cuesta College (April 12), Cal Poly (April 13-14) and the West Coast Regional Finals at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas (May 4-5).
“You get caught up in these rodeos and you miss a bit of school so you really have to work on making that up and staying on top of your performance as an athlete and a student and in keeping your horses sound,” McDougald said. “It does take a lot of work, but everyone’s goal is the same to make it through to Casper and get Fresno State out there and we help each other out a lot. That is one of the great things about it is you’re taking an individual sport like rodeo and making it a team event, putting kids together that have the same interest and the same goal to win. It’s a neat dynamic.”
While several individuals have made it to the national finals the past few years, including Giefer who qualified to go to nationals in Casper, Wyoming, for the past three years, and Dias, who was a reserve champion at breakaway in 2016, Fresno State’s rodeo team advisor Art Parham said the goal this year is to bring a team of six cowboys and four cowgirls.
“The way it is going right now, we have a really good chance of getting our whole men’s team and our women’s team qualified,” Parham said.
The recent surge of success, Parham said, can largely be attributed to coach Tony Branquinho, but the popularity of rodeo is also on the rise. Five years ago, Parham said there were only a dozen cowboys and cowgirls on the club team roster and now there is over 40.
“We have a lot of kids coming in and Branquinho helped us build and now we’re getting ready for the future,” Parham said. “You don’t get a lot of kids until you get some good ones and they start having some success and the right families to support them. It is really a family sport because these kids couldn’t do what they do without their parents because someone has to pay the bills and it costs a lot of money to rodeo.”
McDougald said Fresno State in particular is an attractive place for rodeo kids to go because of its location and affordability.
“There are a lot of kids who are coming up through the ranks from the high schools and they really want a place to go and Fresno is a central location and we have the good weather and it’s an affordable school and an affordable program,” McDougald said. “Having a good program and strong group of people makes people want to come and be a part of something that is bigger than just themselves. I’ve been around Clovis and the Clovis Rodeo a lot and love the crowd. The people of Clovis really love rodeo and the support from the town and from the community is very good.”
Right now, aside from getting to Casper, the main goal is just to get the word out that Fresno State has a rodeo team.
“Not a lot of people know that Fresno State has a rodeo team so it has been our goal lately to promote and get the word out,” McDougald said. “These kids you see out here, you’ll see them at the Clovis Rodeo in the next five years and some of them already do compete at pro rodeo.”
Parham said the program has a great base of support, but moving forward they will need even more support from the community as coach Branquinho is planning to retire and they will need to have the means to pay for a full-time coach.
“It is going to require some community support because the university doesn’t have the money to pay for that type of position,” Parham said.
That said, Parham said he is very thankful for all the community, in particular the Clovis Rodeo Association, has done already.
“They support us immensely with this event and our fundraiser in February and if it weren’t for the things they’ve ponied up and helped us with over the last many years, we would have been gone a long time ago,” Parham said. “Now everything is going really good with that continued support and that base and we are ready to make a breakout and really do something.”