RANGER, Texas --- Just over two years ago, Tom Reeves started recruiting contestants for Ranger College's rodeo team.
It was the first time in 25 years that the college had a rodeo program and Reeves went at it with the same attitude that made him a success as a saddle bronc rider in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA).
He sought out contestants, solicited help from stock contractors and sponsors. A program was developed that included daily practice, advice from other successful professional rodeo athletes and support from stock contractors, the school and the community.
All of the efforts paid off in a big way as Ranger College took three Southwest Region titles in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA). After the final rodeo of the season at Tarleton State University, in Stephenville, Texas, Ranger College walked away with the men's team, the men's all-around and team roping titles.
Steven Dent won the all-around title by a huge margin of over 600 points. He finished the season with 1,477.5 points competing in bareback and saddle bronc riding. Dakota Shipp won the team roping heading title and Kory Bramwell won the team roping heeling title. They along with Logan Allen, Chase Miller and Jared Smith will be representing Ranger College at the upcoming College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR), June 10-16 in Casper, Wyo.
Dent, who anchored the team also competes in the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association. His success in 2006 earned him the Resistol Rookie of the Year title in the bareback riding and all-around categories.
"I'm real proud of all the kids here," Reeves said. "They are a tough bunch. They work out, practice, go to class, rodeo hard and work hard. All of them aspire to be professional cowboys and they are headed that way."
Taking a rodeo program from zero to champions in one of the most competitive regions in the NIRA in two short years has been a challenge for Reeves. Originally from Eagle Butte, S.D., he had his own college rodeo experience competing in saddle bronc riding as part of the men's team for Panhandle State University in Goodwell, Okla., alongside two-time world champion saddle bronc rider Robert Etbauer.
Reeves advanced from college to the ranks of the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA), and like any cowboy that sets his foot in a rodeo arena, Reeves had a goal of winning the prestigious gold buckle that says you are the best. He quickly became one of the most consistent riders in the business, getting his membership in the PRCA in 1982 and qualifying for his first of 18 Wrangler National Finals Rodeos (NFR) in 1985.
His year came in 2001 when he won the Wrangler NFR championship and the world title. All of the lessons he learned in over 20 years on the rodeo trail are now being passed on through Ranger College's rodeo program. While Reeves has his own experience to draw from, he knows that it is not enough to coach rodeo athletes in 10 disciplines. Kelly Wardell, a four-time Wrangler NFR qualifier in bareback riding is just one of the cowboys that have stopped by Ranger to help the athletes.
"Tom really cares about the kids," Wardell said. "He has taken the passion that he had for competing in rodeo and has carried it over to this program. He is every bit as dedicated a coach as he was as a competitor and it's paying off."
After Justin McBride won the Professional Bull Riders world championship in 2005, he also stopped by the school. McBride is originally from Mullen, Neb., the same place Dent is from.
"I can't rope like Cody Ohl, (six-time PRCA tie-down roping champion) so I'll find someone that does and get them here to help the kids," Reeves explained. He also has had tremendous support from stock contractors and sponsors including the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo.
Stace Smith, who lives 200 miles away sends them horses to practice on and sponsors some of the team members. Silver Spurs sends horses all the way from Florida. Frontier Rodeo Company and Rafter G Rodeo Company have sent bucking stock for them to practice on.
They also work at having good cattle for the timed-event competitors. The college recently hired Jennifer Heisman who was a coach at Missouri Valley College. She attended Southwestern Oklahoma State University and won the NIRA goat tying title in 2000. Heisman will be working with the women on goat tying, break-away roping and barrel racing. The college president, Ken Tunstall, and athletic director, Tommy Simmons, attended the last rodeo of the season and are making their travel plans for the CNFR.
"The college and administration are totally behind this program," Reeves said. "The community support is unbelievable. They are talking about renting a bus to get fans to Casper. It's pretty exciting."
It's a far cry from Reeves' past job that was rewarded for work eight-seconds at a time. His days now start at 7:30 each morning and it is often 11 p.m. before he gets home after a practice session. Weekends he's off to a college rodeo. Seeing the hard work pay off and helping athletes accomplish their goals is rewarding for Reeves, the college and the community.
"I've been asked if I missed bronc riding," Reeves said. "I didn't miss the riding as much as I missed the winning. I got that feeling again the first time our team won a college rodeo. We've got great cowboys and cowgirls here. I really like helping them move forward in their careers."
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