The 2012 College National Finals Rodeo, held in Casper last month, marked the end of a rodeo era in Wyoming, as Rick and Lynn Smith, the only coaches the Central Wyoming Community College rodeo team has ever had, quietly collected second-place plaques for their women’s team.
The Smiths are headed for Cochise College in Douglas, Ariz., this fall, where Rick will coach the men’s team and Lynn will head up the women’s squad. The two coaches say they are off in search of new challenges, but admit that life in the Southwest is also a draw.
“Warmer weather,” Lynn said, summarizing one of the big reasons to leave a program that she has been associated with since her freshman year of college. “And more money. That matters, too.”
Lynn Smith — then Lynn Wiebe — qualified four times for the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR), winning buckles for goat tying, breakaway roping and all-around cowgirl as a junior at Central Wyoming Community College (CWC) in 1998. She moved on to the University of Wyoming for her final year of college and returned to coach at CWC in 2000. Rick spent almost 15 years riding saddle broncs on the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) circuit, where he says he “rodeoed hard” for 10 years and qualified six times for the National Finals Rodeo. He became Central’s first rodeo coach in 1995. The two coaches married in 2004 and have a son, Will James, who is 7.
In all, CWC has fielded nine individual national champions in Rick Smith’s 17 years as coach: three on the men’s team and six on the women’s. Saddle bronc and other rough stock riders have moved on to larger schools and success on the PRCA circuit after graduation. But it is the women’s rodeo team that has left the longest trail of winners, dominating the Central Rocky Mountain Region.
In the 11 years since Lynn rejoined the CWC program as an assistant coach in 2000, the women’s team has wonfive times and finished second five times. This year’s women’s team won the regional title and finished second in the nation, despite not entering a contestant in barrel racing.
The team’s top point earner was Lacey Tech, 22, of Fairfax, S.D., who was crowned national champion in goat tying with a time of 26.4 seconds on four goats. She was the only contestant at the CNFR with four ties under seven seconds.
Tech, like the other three women on the team, came up through Lynn Smith’s goat tying clinics. Known as “Better Basics,” the clinics are typically two days of intense instruction for girls age 6 and older. Once in a while, Smith has had participants in their 40s, who love the sport and just want to keep learning.
“When I was a little girl, Lynn Wiebe was my hero,” Tech said. “I started going to her clinics every year. I tied goats in junior rodeo and high school rodeo. I came to Central because Lynn was the coach.”
Like almost every recruit Lynn’s team has had in the past 10 years, all four women on the 2012 CWC squad came up for the clinics.
“It was usually two days,” Tech remembers. “The first day was all ground work. Flanking the goat. Tying the goat. Running up to the goat and flanking it. The second day we practiced get-offs.” By the end of the two-day clinic, students were practicing the full event: dismounting from a running horse, running to the tethered goat, flanking and then tying the goat according to a system that Smith developed over the course of her own career.
The goat tyers Smith does not recruit often turn out to be CWC’s toughest competition. Tech won at the CNFR, but alumni of “Better Basics” took five of the remaining top 12 places in goat tying. The winner and the first runner up of the CNFR All Around Cowgirl titles, Hayden Segelke of Colorado’s Northeastern Junior College and Kaylee Moyer of Oklahoma Panhandle StateUniversity, had also been to Smith’s clinics.
“Lynn teaches a certain style of flanking and tying,” said Mark Eakin, rodeo coach at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas. “Her style is different from anyone else’s. Once you have seen Lynn hold a clinic, you can pick out the kids who use her style. And they are usually the ones who are winning.”
Eakin recruited CWC sophomore, Devin Nicholls, for his 2013-14 squad. “It’s a neat fit to bring her in,” said Eakin. Nicholls was a goat tyer and break-away roper at Central, but competed only in break-away at the 2012 CNFR.
Not every community college student at Central is willing to leave after two years. Both Tech and Traci Hinman, members of this year’s second-place team, used all four years of their college eligibility at Central. Tech completed two degrees while competing for a deep squad that pushed each other very hard in practice.
To understand how competitive goat tying has become in the Central Rocky Mountain Region, consider that Tech, the CNFR champion, would not have qualified for the college finals if her team had not qualified. The top two teams in the region make the finals, as do the top three individual finishers in each event. Tech was not among the top three goat tyers in the final region standings.
“In a way it’s the most demanding event in rodeo now,” Rick Smith said. “You can’t make a single mistake and win a rodeo if you are a goat tyer. In rough stock events, you can make a big mistake and come back strong from it and win the CNFR.”
Consistency is as important as speed in the event. Tech finished five-tenths of a second behind the leader in the final round of the CNFR. Her time of 6.6 seconds was good only for fourth place among 12 in that Saturday night short go. But by staying consistently between 6.3 and 6.8 seconds for the four rounds of competition, she had the lowest aggregate score — four-tenths of a second ahead of the second-place contestant.
“From the time that Lynn started, we have seen a tremendous improvement in goat tyers,” said Tom Parker, the head rodeo coach at Casper College, a team that competes in the same region as Central Wyoming. “It’s not just the girls who were Lynn’s students who are getting better; it’s the girls who have to compete against them. They see what the other girls are achieving and they work harder to beat them.”
Times have gone down by almost two seconds in the past 20 years, according to Craig Latham, head rodeo coach at Panhandle State. “Now these girls are tying sixes and sevens. Twenty years ago it was eights and nines. Maybe they tied in the high sevens at the CNFR.”
Success in this competitive environment depends on more than talent, according to Rick and Lynn Smith. Good character, the willingness to strive for perfection, the commitment to practice for extremely long hours. These are some of the qualities they look for.
“The girls are real young when they start coming to the clinics,” said Lynn, “so their parents are there and I get to know the family. I try to focus on recruiting kids from good families. Getting the right kind of kid is as important as talent.”
When girls come up through the clinics and think they want Lynn Smith as a college coach, she welcomes them, but at the same time she strongly suggests that they look at other schools so they are 100 percent certain about the choice.
“At the clinics, I don’t usually get serious about them until they are in the eighth or ninth grade,” Lynn said. “But then I’m staying in touch with them at the clinic once or twice a year until they are seniors. Even then I make sure they really want to come here.”
By bringing their culture of careful recruiting and intense practice to Arizona, the Smiths want to create an environment to attract strong competitors.
“Kids come to college to rodeo,” said Lynn. “They come for other reasons, too. But we’re not kidding ourselves. They really come to rodeo. We want to give them organized practices year around so that they can work on their skills and succeed at what they really want to do.”
Historically, Cochise College is not one of the strongest rodeo teams in the Grand Canyon Region. Their men’s and women’s teams finished fourth and fifth, respectively, and sent only one competitor to the 2012 CNFR: Kassidy Dennison, a barrel racer.
“That Grand Canyon region will get tougher,” said Latham. “It’ll be good for everybody to have them down there. It’ll be another strong school.”
— Ron Feemster just finished two years as a Visiting Professor of Journalism at the Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media in Bangalore, India, and previously taught journalism at Northwest College in Powell. He has reported for The New York Times, Associated Press, Newsday, NPR and others.
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