LEWISVILLE, Texas---The U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company Scholarship Awards Program was started 32-years-ago with one goal in mind --- to help adult college rodeo athletes fulfill their educational goals.

The success stories because of the $5.2 million in scholarships awarded to adult college rodeo athletes are numerous according to John Smith, commissioner of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA). Smith has been involved with college rodeo since the 1970's and before taking on his current position was head of the agriculture department and coach at McNeese State University in Lake Charles, La.

"I know at McNeese, the scholarship money helped a lot of students stay in school," Smith said. "At most of our member schools, rodeo is considered a club sport and doesn't always get support from the institution. The scholarships from U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company have been extremely important to the growth and success of college rodeo."

At this year's College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR), over $200,000 in scholarships will be presented to adult college student athletes on behalf of the USSTC Scholarship Awards Program. The rodeo begins on June 10 and will again be held in Casper, Wyo.

Included in the program are several academic awards, given to adult freshmen, sophomores and juniors competing at the CNFR who have the highest grade-point averages. Regional event winners and national event winners also receive scholarships.

One of the most prestigious titles for a college to win is that of champion team. The men's team has up to six members competing in bareback riding, steer wrestling, tie-down roping, saddle bronc riding, team roping and bull riding. The women's team has up to four members from the barrel racing, goat tying and break-away roping disciplines.

Last year Tarleton State University from Stephenville, Texas, won both the men's and women's team titles, a huge accomplishment for coach Bob Doty. Along with the title they earned $21,000 in scholarships from USSTC.

"It was incredible," Doty said of the win. "I had great teams and great student athletes. The money we've gotten from U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company has been tremendous. We've financed more of our students' educations. It's allowed them to concentrate on their academics and rodeo without adding the stress of a job."

Doty is returning to the CNFR with strong teams in 2006. Always optimistic, he feels like they have a strong chance of repeat victory this year. However, he is also realistic and knows there is very tough competition to be faced.

Tarleton State University is one of 133 member schools competing in 11 regions of the NIRA. There are 3,225 student members that compete throughout the year hoping to be one of the 400 to qualify for the CNFR.

At the CNFR, each contest features three full rounds of competition with the top 12 advancing to the final round. At the rodeo's conclusion on June 17, national championships will be awarded. Ty Murray, seven-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association all-around champion is a former winner of a college title and scholarships from USSTC. He is now a spokesperson for the company.

"Some of the best memories of my career are from my college rodeo days," said Murray who is now retired. "I wouldn't trade them for anything. Competing at the CNFR and in college rodeo helped prepare me for my future."

The Best of the Best Award given to the CNFR men's all-around champion has become an integral part of the Scholarship Awards Program. If the winner is a graduating senior, USSTC will help make a professional rodeo career possible. A sponsorship will be offered if they choose to compete in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) or the Professional Bull Riders (PBR).

"Many of the PRCA's best athletes have come out of the ranks of college rodeo," said Darrell Barron, western manager, One-On-One Marketing, for USSTC. "By rewarding a graduating senior CNFR champion with a USSTC sponsorship, we are giving him a leg-up on his professional rodeo career. For those not yet graduating, we are helping to alleviate the financial concerns associated with completing their education."

Cody Demers was a student competing at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, when he won the USSTC/NIRA Best of the Best Award in 2001 and 2002. He now competes in bareback and saddle bronc riding as a USSTC cowboy in the PRCA and has qualified for the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo three times.

The Walt Garrison Top Hand award, another part of the USSTC Scholarship Awards Program, will be presented for the seventh time. It is given to an individual who exemplifies Garrison's qualities of initiative, loyalty, tenacity, commitment, honesty, perseverance, integrity and leadership. The winning adult will receive $2,500 as will the institution he or she is attending.





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