Writer: Darrell J. Pehr, 575-646-3223, firstname.lastname@example.org
LAS CRUCES - Rodeo supporters across the state were pleased at Gov. Bill Richardson's announcement last week of a proposal to spend $2.2 million next year for rodeo and 4-H programs.
"New Mexico is known for good rodeo talent, but the talent doesn't stay in New Mexico," said Jim Dewey Brown, rodeo coach for New Mexico State University.
The $400,000 proposed for college scholarships would go to students at the state's four collegiate rodeo programs: NMSU, Eastern New Mexico University, New Mexico Junior College and Mesalands Community College.
Brown has seen the impact increased state funding and private scholarship money has had at NMSU, where the program recently boomed, becoming the third largest in the country this year. That support is starting to show results: Two NMSU rodeo team members finished in the top 10 during the College National Finals Rodeo last year.
Still, the draw of larger programs, such as Tarleton State University in Texas and the University of Wyoming, is hard to resist.
"Texas coaches, they know how to recruit students out of here," Brown said. "Now that we have a strong program here we're starting to keep these kids in state."
The governor proposed that $400,000 go to strengthen college and high school rodeo programs, and to develop a New Mexico Intercollegiate Rodeo Finals that would rotate among the four colleges. Richardson proposed $400,000 to help cities and counties improve rodeo and fair facilities as long as youth rodeos could use the facilities free or at a reduced cost.
The funding would provide opportunities for those who compete in 4-H rodeo, which is one of the largest 4-H projects in New Mexico. State 4-H program director Frank Hodnett said 670 4-H members across the state competed in rodeo in 2004.
The 4-H youth rodeo program and high school rodeo teams are feeder programs for college-level competition.
"I think it's fantastic for the youth," New Mexico 4-H Rodeo Board President Smiley Wooton of Roswell said about the governor's proposal. "Rodeo is just another option that the 4-H kids have," he said. "It teaches them leadership and responsibility."
Young people involved in rodeo also must complete safety and first aid training before competing, something not offered by other programs, Wooton said.
The new funding could be a big help for the 4-H rodeo program in Bernalillo County, which spends about $8,000 to rent the fairgrounds in Albuquerque for the county fair each August, said Bob Pate, an agricultural/4-H agent for NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service in Bernalillo County. While his program receives some support from business sponsors, help from the state could free up money to pay for rodeo stock and help competitors with their costs.
Other funding would go toward improving Expo New Mexico (formerly the New Mexico State Fair) and upgrading Tingley Coliseum at the state fairgrounds ($553,000); supporting education and rodeo clinics at Expo New Mexico ($400,000); and helping the State Rodeo Commission recruit and recognize private sponsors ($100,000).
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