Quiet! Rodeo Zone!

Ride ’em Utah Valley State cowboy!

The difference between cowboys and the rest of us is this: Around the dinner table the rest of us talk and eat. Cowboys, a more efficiently evolved species, simply eat. I learned this one spring day in 2007 while researching Utah Valley State College, at the time the nation’s №1-ranked collegiate rodeo team.

I phoned Lewis Feild, then the head coach, at his campus office in Orem, Utah, about 15 miles south of Salt Lake City. Feild, a five-time Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association all-around and bareback riding champion, offered to talk as long as I liked. “I really appreciate that,” I said. “How many men are on your team?”

“About 20,” he said.

“Can you be more specific?”

“About 20.”

I decided not to push it further. “Could you tell me how many are on full scholarship?” I asked. He declined, saying, “You understand.” When I replied that I didn’t, he changed the subject.

Feild did tell me that the Michael Jordan of his team is Bud Munns, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound senior who was then the nation’s №1-ranked collegiate all-around cowboy — the rodeo equivalent of winning the U.S. Track & Field decathlon championship. “I’d say he is focused, hardworking, consistent,” Feild said, when asked for a detailed breakdown of Munns’s skills.

Feild’s minimalist approach to providing team information extends to the athletic department’s web page, where there is no mention of rodeo at all. This seemed somewhat puzzling, given that Utah Valley State, a Division 1 school since 2003, has enjoyed little success in other sports. The 2007 baseball team finished 25–30. The basketball team has never made it to the NCAA or NIT championships.

I phoned then-assistant sports information director Steve Schaack. “Why the omission?” I asked.

“Because rodeo isn’t an NCAA-sanctioned sport,” he replied. When I asked why not, he referred me to Feild, who has coached the team six or seven years. (Feild declined to be more precise.)

“I don’t know the answer,” Feild said.

I can’t say I was surprised.

I felt like a character in a Lewis Carroll novel, swept into a netherworld where sense is nonsense and nonsense is sense. “I have a meeting to go to,” Feild said, “but I’ll be happy to talk more if you want to call later.”

I thanked him, though I was unsure of what, exactly, I was thanking him for.

Before he hung up, Feild informed me that Munns and his teammates would be competing in the 2007 College National Finals Rodeo, in Casper, Wyo. I’d already decided that if I were to go, I’d open my mouth for a stadium hotdog but otherwise keep it shut.

A version of this piece appeared originally on ESPN.com.



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Ron Berler

Author of “Raising the Curve: A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000* Failing Public Schools.” Has written for the New York Times Magazine, Wired and ESPN.com.