SDSU Rodeo Club

According to the 1953 Jack Rabbit yearbook, the South Dakota State Rodeo Club got its start when an ag student couldn’t get a date so he rode past the girls’ dorm on his pinto and lassoed an unsuspecting coed.

Bob Penfield ’53, the club’s first president, would not verify that legendary start to the club. However, he did say a handwritten sign announcing a meeting at the stock pavilion caused about 50 students to show up for the initial meeting in October 1952.

Penfield, pictured in the upper left corner, also claims to be the first member to score points in an event, recording points in a bareback event in Fort Collins, Colorado, when he and two other members drove to Laramie, Wyoming, and Fort Collins to compete in two rodeos one weekend in spring 1953.

Later that spring, May 20-21, the initial Jackrabbit Stampede was held in Clear Lake. Penfield said the 1954 edition was held in Rapid City due to the number of members who called West River home. After not holding a rodeo in 1955, the Jackrabbit Stampede returned in 1956 and has been held since.

The 1955 rodeo season also saw what is now Sutton Rodeo provide practice stock for the club. The Suttons started providing stock for the 1956 Jackrabbit Stampede and continue to do so today with countless pro caliber stock.

“The club would come out to our ranch (near Onida) and practice over the years,” said Jim Sutton ’57, who was a member of the Rodeo Club in addition to being on the Jackrabbits’ basketball and track and field teams.

In addition to providing stock, the Sutton family also donated chutes for the first arena on campus, built in 1958 when Bob Gartner was the faculty adviser.

“The Rodeo Club wanted to build its own on-campus arena. A small tract of land on the west side of Medary Avenue near the horse barn was provided by the head of the animal science department,” Gartner said. “Club members salvaged lumber and hardware from various sources on and off the campus and constructed the first arena on what is now university property. It enabled the Rodeo Club to conduct its first rodeo on campus and many more.

“It was almost accidental that I became involved with the rodeo team,” Gartner continued, noting Paul Kohler, an instructor at State, helped the club throughout the years. “President Briggs called me into his office and asked if I would serve as the team faculty adviser and travel with them. I had known Dr. Briggs when he was dean of the College of Agriculture at the University of Wyoming. President Briggs was concerned that students representing the university were travelling without faculty presence in the event of injury. He also wanted faculty presence to encourage team members to maintain good grades.”

The faculty adviser position would evolve by the time Tom Richter took over in 1988. Richter ’88/’90, now the executive director of the Swiftel Center, chose State after graduating from Granite Falls, Minnesota, due to the Rodeo Club. A club member while pursuing a bachelor’s degree in ag education, Richter wondered how good the club could be if it had a coach.

After graduating, Richter was thinking of obtaining a master’s degree. Still thinking about how good the SDSU program would be if it had a coach, Richter persuaded David Bryant, the dean of the College of Agriculture and Biological Sciences, to become the coach.

His idea paid off when Seth Allen Weishaar and Kristi Price won national titles. Current head coach Ron Skovly ’96 was a member of the team then, too.
Richter said community involvement has made the Jackrabbit Stampede one of the nation’s best.

“The crowd support is still tremendous, not typical of a college rodeo,” Richter said. “We have something unique that happens here. Even when it was snowing or raining, the crowd would go wild when anyone wearing a yellow vest competed, especially when they did well.”

Brent Sutton ’10, Jim’s grandson, agrees. A former Rodeo Club member himself, he finished third at the 2010 College National Finals Rodeo in steer wrestling and now helps put on the Jackrabbit Stampede. He and other family members typically spend a week in Brookings helping with preparations.

“Growing up through it, I’ve seen how much work (the Jackrabbit Stampede) is,” Brent Sutton said. “I’ve been to other rodeos that aren’t as good as this one. Yes, it’s a matter of pride that this is a successful rodeo. You get to work with good people, in a nice facility and the community helps—what it takes to put on a good rodeo.”

Matt Schmidt

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