May 6, 2010 2:01:00 PM
David Miller -
WEST POINT -- A program six years in the making finalized its first recruiting class Wednesday as East Mississippi Community College signed nine area student-athletes to rodeo scholarships.
When EMCC President Dr. Rick Young started in 2004, he envisioned a scholarship-based rodeo program that would lead to an equestrian program.
The location of EMCC''s main campus in Scooba and its satellite campuses are in rural areas where rodeo is popular.
Young had enough kids call EMCC and inquire about a rodeo program that he thought it was time to take the step.
On Wednesday, nine athletes joined first-year coach Morgan Goodrich''s squad that will compete next year in the Ozark Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association.
"A lot of young women and men who want to participate and have the opportunity to compete," Young said. "I felt like it was a good fit with our location and everything. It was the right thing, right place, and right time."
EMCC''s rodeo program is part of a plan Young has to expand the agriculture and veterinarian classes at EMCC. He hopes interest in rodeo sparks financial support that he hopes will help the school begin a veterinary science tech program.
The decision to add the sport paves the way for EMCC to join Northwest as the state schools to offer college rodeo programs. The Lions will compete against Troy, Murray State, Southern Arkansas, and UT-Martin.
Goodrich, a former assistant basketball coach at EMCC, brings 20 years of rodeo experience to the Lions. She competed independently for EMCC from 1998-2000 and for West Alabama in 2001, starring in breakaway roping, goat tying, and barrel racing.
Actively involved in rodeo throughout Mississippi, she didn''t have to look far to assemble her first team.
"These kids are standouts and go to PCA rodeos, and I feel we''ll have kids at nationals," Goodrich said. "The kids we have coming in are great competitors and have good experience."
Competing against established programs and against unfamiliar athletes will make for challenges in the first year, said West Point''s Taylor White, who has won money several times as a competitor at Youth IFR and is a Top 5 state of Tennessee heeler and steer wrestler.
"Inexperience at the college level will be an issue, though all of us have been in rodeo our whole lives," White said. "Getting in the groove of how things work at this level will be an adjustment, but our goals are to win region and try to get to nationals. I don''t think anybody on the team will think about that once we get started."
West Point native Ty Miller was unsure if EMCC was going to start the program. He had called the Mayhew campus, which he attends, and school officials there didn''t know.
Miller, who is ranked in the top 15 in PCA''s heeling rankings with $3,500 won, talked to Goodrich and had a good feeling the program would form.
"It was kind of iffy at first, but it feels good to go to school and compete in rodeo," Miller said. "It''s also good to have help to pay for rodeo fees and travel."
Finances in rodeo are critically important for athletes who travel the region, which all of EMCC''s team members do as amateurs or as professionals. Rodeo is the only collegiate sport that allows its athletes to compete professionally, as most need to to cover the expenses the incur at competitions.
In that same vein, EMCC can''t afford to provide horses and cattle for practice, so athletes use their horses. Practice will take place at home or wherever the athletes keep their animals, which also affects class scheduling. Rodeo student-athletes can take online courses or attend classes at one of EMCC''s campuses.
"The kids I recruit have the facilities in their backyard, which helps make this possible," Goodrich said. "It''s such a huge expense for kids to go off and rodeo collegiately because you have to have feed and take care of these horses. It''s asking a lot of the parents to let kids go off with these trucks and $20,000 horses, so when they can stay at home and commute and do a combination of both, it''s a great opportunity.
"It''s not such a lifestyle change, but it''s beneficial for these second generation rodeo athletes."
Mathiston native Carson Bright is confident the team will jell quickly, as they''re already familiar with each other. Miller and fellow Lions signee Cody Warner took fifth in World Team Roping in 2008.
"Four of these guys, including myself, have been to nationals, so our expectations are high," Bright said. "Team roping should do well, and we should all compete well as individuals. I know this will be a new team, but I think we have national championship potential."