Sutton and SDSU Rodeo Club

Jim Sutton and his family have been involved with the South Dakota State University Rodeo Club nearly as long as the club has been in existence.

Three generations of Suttons help put on the Jackrabbit Stampede. Brent ’10, Jim ’57 and Steve ’82 all were members of the Rodeo Club during their times at State and treat the week of the Jackrabbit Stampede as a large family reunion.

Three generations of Suttons help put on the Jackrabbit Stampede. Brent ’10, Jim ’57 and Steve ’82 all were members of the Rodeo Club during their times at State and treat the week of the Jackrabbit Stampede as a large family reunion.

The Rodeo Club got its start in fall 1952 and the Suttons allowed the club to visit the Onida ranch to practice shortly thereafter. The family started providing stock for the 1956 Jackrabbit Stampede and continues 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 Sutton ’57, noting his grandfather, Ed, held rodeos starting in 1926 at the ranch.

In addition to providing stock, the Sutton family also donated chutes for the first arena on campus, built in 1958.

During his time at State, Jim Sutton was probably known more for his abilities on the basketball court and the track than his involvement with rodeo. A two-time all-conference performer in basketball, he was selected in the 1957 National Basketball Association Draft.

“I think I probably would have been a pretty good cowboy if I hadn’t spent so much time playing basketball,” said Sutton, breaking into a laugh.

But rodeo didn’t always play second fiddle. As a senior, he competed in a rodeo and suffered a leg injury, forcing him to miss the conference championships in track and field.

These days, rodeo—particularly the Jackrabbit Stampede—is king. In addition to Jim, his son, Steve ’82, and grandson, Brent ’10, work at the Jackrabbit Stampede as do other family members, who typically spend a week in Brookings helping with preparations. Steve and Brent, as well as other family members—Brice ’11 and Amy ’07—competed in the Stampede during their times at State.

“We’re pretty proud of this rodeo,” Jim said, adding his daughter, Tanya ’85, was the drum major for The Pride of the Dakotas for four years and Teri ’75 was Miss Rodeo South Dakota and the Beef Bowl Queen.

According to Ron Skovly ’96, head coach of the Rodeo Club, the Suttons continue to provide practice stock when schedules allow. However, they also provide experience and expertise when running the Jackrabbit Stampede.

“When you have somebody like the Suttons, who have been through the highs and the lows, through the good weather and the bad weather, you could say they are the staple that has kept it going,” Skovly said, adding the club has had different coaches or held the rodeo at different sites during that time.

“There have been times when I asked about an idea and Jim or Steve will answer ‘we tried that one. While it didn’t quite work then, we’ll work on trying it again … if you want to,’” he continued. “They’ve been all over the nation with rodeos and see what works and what doesn’t. And they’re committed to making this rodeo the best it can be.”

One example of that was when Steve Sutton suggested playing the SDSU fight song when a club member was going to compete.

“That added another element to the Stampede. So, whenever an SDSU team member comes up, boom, here comes the fight song like at a football game or a basketball game,” Skovly said. “That’s helped a ton, especially in the grand entry when it’s just our team in the arena.”

From the Sutton Rodeo merchandise booth in the lobby to Brent and Steve helping with the livestock or Jim and his wife, Julie, in the stands or anywhere in between, there is usually a Sutton nearby at the Jackrabbit Stampede. And that does not count the other family members around.

After watching a go-round in which no competitors completed a successful bull ride, Jim Sutton was asked if he cheers for his bulls. The 80-year-old Sutton just smiled and said not all the time.

“I don’t know if there is a favorite memory about the Stampede but the one I remember the most was when it snowed about a foot on us out there,” Sutton said, pointing toward the campus arena. “I remember driving the pickup to the fence so Julie could see, and the windshield wipers couldn’t keep up with the snow.

“Now, the big thing is getting together with previous South Dakota State rodeo people and shooting the breeze. It is almost like a family reunion.”

Matt Schmidt

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