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UW's Laramie River Rendezvous Opens Friday

April 30, 2009
Cowboy riding a bronco
Cowboys have competed in the Laramie River Rendezvous for 60 years. (UW American Heritage Center.)

The Laramie River Rendezvous will celebrate its 60th anniversary this weekend.

The celebration, though, might be a few years late.

Pete Burns and Bill Laycock, who, collectively, probably possess more knowledge about the history of intercollegiate rodeo at the University of Wyoming than anybody else, say the springtime tradition that has featured the likes of Dale Stiles, Jimmi Jo Martin and Todd Suhn over the years is a bit older.

"Oh, I think it's more than 60 years old because we had a rodeo club in 1939 and the first intercollegiate rodeo was in ‘41,'" says Burns, who rodeoed for UW in the late 1940s and then coached the rodeo club for 15 years from 1982-96. "Even if they stopped for a few years during the war (World War II, 1939-45), it's probably been 65 or 66 years."

He adds, "It's been around for a long time and it's always a good show."

The UW club's only annual home event of the Central Rocky Mountain Region (CRMR) season opens Friday and runs through Sunday at the Cliff and Martha Livestock Teaching Arena west of Laramie on Highway 230. Performances begin at 7 p.m. Friday, 1 and 7 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.

The 2009 event will differ dramatically from the inaugural Rendezvous in 1941, which was held outdoors at Antelope Park and included such events as a Boot and Spur Race, a Girls' Musical Chair Race and a Wild Cow Milking Contest.

Another major difference: UW's first intercollegiate rodeo was a single afternoon affair that featured but two teams: The host school from Laramie and Colorado A&M, now Colorado State University.

The Rendezvous, which now includes men's and women's contestants from 12 schools in Wyoming, Colorado and Nebraska, has since grown into one of Laramie's most popular annual events.

"It's always standing-room only on Saturday night and Sunday," says Laycock, a longtime rodeo club supporter who volunteered his time from 1985-99, first as an announcer and then as club adviser.

Burns says rodeo fans have an added incentive to show up for this year's Rendezvous.

"This girls team is the greatest that's ever been here," he says.

That's especially high praise coming from Burns, who coached three national championship women's teams at UW in the early 1990s, including the ‘91 squad that featured Lori Rhodes, Shanna Newland and Toni Christinck.

A year earlier, Martin single-handedly won the national title for the Cowgirls, earning the goat tying and all-around championships to account for all of UW's team points.

The Cowgirls also won the 1993 college finals.

"We just dominated women's rodeo during that time," Burns says.

The present-day Cowgirls -- fronted by Nikki Steffes, TaNaye Carroll and Sarah Mulholland -- are doing just the same.

Entering its final event of the season, UW leads the national overall standings by nearly 900 points over second-place Cal Poly State University-San Luis Obispo. In the CRMR, the Cowgirls have outpaced their closest rival, Central Wyoming College of Riverton, by a staggering 3,755 points.

Steffes, a molecular biology/medical microbiology senior from Vale, S.D., tops the national all-around standings, sits third in goat tying and ranks sixth in barrel racing.

"This Steffes girl could be a great success in pro rodeo, I really believe that," Burns says. "She's bullet-proof. No nerves. You just can't scare her."

Adds Laycock, "She is a hand."

Steffes is just the latest in a long line of UW standouts who have displayed their vast talents at the Rendezvous. From Stiles to Bill Whitney, Suhn to Frank Shepperson, Martin to Jason Miller and Sunnie Fish to Birch Negaard, UW's annual springtime rodeo has featured the rodeo stars of tomorrow for 60 years.

Or how many ever years it's been.

"It's more than 60," Laycock insists.

But who's counting?

Posted on Thursday, April 30, 2009

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