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Steer-A-Year Puts the Cow in Cowboy Athletics

January 4, 2018
people standing on the sidelines at a football game
Steer-A-Year organizers and award winners were recognized during the September UW-Hawaii football game. L-R: Doug Hixon, Steer-A-Year assistant; Laurel Austin, Steer-A-Year student assistant; Wally Wallace, volunteer of the year; Jack Cobb and daughter Cindy Cobb, Cobb Cattle Co.; Marty Jones and Joe Henderson, Jones Ag Corp.; Brace and Haley Pingetzer, Pingetzer’s Six Iron Ranch; and Randy Welniak, senior associate athletic director. (Photo by Steve Miller)

A Limousin-cross calf from the Boxelder Ranch sets ups Cowgirl Volleyball’s Marina Howard for a spike, and a Black Angus from Cobb Cattle Co. assists Cowboy Football’s Pahl Schwab on the offensive line.

By Chavawn Kelley

Since 1995, Wyoming ranchers and others from the agriculture community have donated calves, yearlings, volunteer hours and cash for feed through the Cowboy Joe Club Steer-A-Year program. Their gifts support all Wyoming high school graduates in the UW athletics program and members of the UW rodeo team and Department of Animal Science livestock judging teams.

“It’s a fantastic relationship,” says Randy Welniak, senior associate athletic director and head of the Cowboy Joe Club. “Agriculture is a key industry in the state, and the Steer-A-Year program gives producers, businesses and others with ties to ranching a unique way to support Cowboy and Cowgirl student-athletes.” Welniak says it’s one of only two such programs in the country.

Students from Wyoming Get a “Signing Bonus”

Daniel and Kristi Schwab and son Pahl know Steer-A-Year from both sides. Area cattleman Lynn Dimond talked up the program, and for the last six years, Dan and Kristi have donated one or more 700-pound yearlings purchased in Lincoln County.

Pahl Schwab, who graduated from Star Valley High School, wanted to play Division 1 football but was not an all-star player, says his father. Dimond arranged an official visit. (Dimond died in 2016, and the Dimond Ranch sponsors a Steer-A-Year Memorial in his memory.)

As the elder Schwab tells it, Coach Craig Bohl told Pahl, “I like your film, but I can’t give you a scholarship.”

Despite pressure from his hometown to choose BYU, Schwab started at UW in 2015 as a redshirt freshman walk-on. He earned his scholarship by distinguishing himself academically and on the field. Wearing Cowboys 77, Schwab plays left tackle and on special teams for punting and field goals. Schwab is on pace to earn a degree in management and a second in marketing before his football eligibility expires.

Freshman volleyball player Marina Howard is another athlete with Steer-A-Year connections—hers through the Gross-Wilkinson Ranch Co. near Pine Bluffs. Howard is from Pine Bluffs and graduated from Cheyenne East High School.

“My stepfather, Pat [Gross], donates and was always talking about Steer-A-Year and the events,” she says. “It wasn’t until our volleyball team helped at a tailgate that I got to see what that part was about.”

As a redshirt freshman, Howard is developing strength and adjusting to the speed of college play before taking to the court next year as a middle blocker. “From the first day of fall camp, I knew I was in the right place,” she says. Fall semester, she took her first course toward her elementary education major.

Ag Community Contributes to Cattle Futures

Schwab and Howard are exceptions among UW student-athletes. Most aren’t aware of the unusual scholarship component. Through Steer-A-Year, the Cowboy Joe Club brings together a team behind the teams.

There are about 270 Steer-A-Year donors for 2017, but the number is greater, considering the many couples, extended families and businesses that participate. Some give more than one steer, and some have given every year since the program began.

Among those behind the scenes is Doug Hixon, professor emeritus of animal science and a former UW Extension beef specialist. As a Steer-A-Year assistant, Hixon meets with producers, recruits donors and helps coordinate livestock pickups.

Friendly competition is also part of the game, with donors vying for awards such as greatest initial value and greatest increase in value after the finished steers are sold at market. Their gifts are grown—literally—by cash donations that go toward feed. “They’re giving a part of themselves,” Welniak says.

Schwab, one of 14 home-grown players in the football program, says, “I look around and see the others from in state, like me, and I know people are giving a steer for us. That’s something to be grateful for.”


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