NORFOLK, NE – Life will literally be a rodeo for some students at Northeast Community College. Officials announced Thursday that rodeo will become the 10th intercollegiate athletic program at the Norfolk-based college beginning in fall 2019.
“Rodeo is a popular sport across the region among high school students. Northeast Community College wants to give those students the opportunity to pursue their passion to take part in the competition the sport offers while earning their college degree with us,“ said Kurt Kohler, dean of student life and athletics. “Also, with agriculture as the College’s largest academic program, rodeo is a natural fit and is relevant to the curriculum that is offered.”
Kohler said the program will provide additional student-athletes opportunities to compete for Northeast.
“We want to give all of our student-athletes the chance to compete in the sport they love, whether its basketball, soccer, volleyball, or whatever it may be. Rodeo is one more opportunity for our student-athletes to learn the many invaluable lessons that sports teach them, while also providing them a quality education.”
Rodeo at the collegiate level is quite popular, especially across the Great Plains. The National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) sanctions more than 100 college rodeos every year in the United States. It represents over 3,500 student-athletes attending more than 135 member colleges and universities. Northeast will contend in the competitive Great Plains Region of the NIRA. Within the Great Plains Region, there are currently 12 teams competing in 10 sanctioned rodeos throughout the year, with six in the fall and four in the spring. The top-two teams in the region and the top-three individuals in each competition qualify for nationals held every June in Casper, Wyo.
The Great Plains Region could not be more pleased to be able to add another rodeo program,” said Tate Eck, faculty director of the Great Plains Region. “It may be cliché, but our region is great and to have the opportunity to give rodeo student-athletes another choice to be able to stay in this region is very momentous. Each school in the Great Plains Region offers something unique to every student; to have that chance to rodeo already on to the decision to go to Northeast Community College is just an added bonus for that student.”
Eck said there are many students who would like to participate in the sport, especially student-athletes in the region.
“If we can keep them here local …if we have one other unique opportunity, a unique school to keep that student, ’to keep them home, keep them right here’ in the Great Plains region, we love that.”
Eck, who is an agriculture instructor at North Dakota State University, said he sees more than his students in the sport.
“My greatest amount of students are ag-related, (but) you’re going to have nursing students, you’re going to have linemen, you’re going to have everybody on this program. It’s such a wide array of students. It’s amazing how many come (to college) to rodeo. They’re there to rodeo and earn a degree.”
Kohler said the College will begin searching immediately for a coach to lead the program.
“Anytime a college adds an athletic program, there are many things to consider such as facilities, equipment, staffing, and budgets,” Kohler said. “We have put together an advisory board to help guide the College through this initial process of building the rodeo program, and I am looking forward to hearing their input. Northeast has looked into practice facility options, and once we have a coach hired and get input from that individual, as well as from our advisory board, we will contract a practice facility, begin purchasing equipment that may be needed, and assemble a schedule for the 2019-2020 seasons. Until then, our focus will be on marketing our program in our region, and on hiring an excellent coach who holds our student-athletes to a high standard in the arena, in the classroom, and in the community.”
Northeast will work to recruit “homegrown” students in the state of the Nebraska with the help of the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association (NHRA). The NHRA serves more than 200 students in the state who compete in a wide variety of events.
“It is encouraging to see Northeast add the sport of rodeo to their athletic programs,” said Tricia Schaffer, national director of the Nebraska High School Rodeo Association. “The majority of our members go on to college and the ability to rodeo is why some are there. Many of our students come from a rural background and will return after college. The opportunity for our students to have another college in the state of Nebraska with a rodeo program is a plus, and I thank you.”
Rodeo is not new to Northeast. It operated at the club level at Northeast’s predecessor institution, Norfolk Junior College, in the 1960’s, and again from the mid 1990’s to the mid 2000’s.
Dr. Michael Chipps, college president, said Northeast Community College wants to be a competitor in the sport.
“The addition of intercollegiate rodeo is truly another exciting opportunity for all of our students at Northeast Community College,” he said. “Athletics provide additional opportunities for our students to be engaged outside of the classroom. Evidence supports that students who make connections at college not only enhance their academic experiences, but they are more likely to be retained and graduate, which is why they are here.”
Chipps said rodeo is an innovative way to grow the College’s enrollment, “and the addition of our athletic programs, in general, is another essential element in Northeast’s enrollment plan to reach new students.”
The new program is already generating interest. One student at the news conference asked how he could sign up. In addition, Kohler said he has started a list that already included some names as of Thursday afternoon.
Anyone who would like more information, may go online to www.northeasthawks.com or call (402) 844-7271.
Rodeo will join men’s and women’s basketball, men’s and women’s soccer, men’s golf, women’s volleyball, baseball, and softball in Northeast’s athletic program line-up.