Ten McNeese students - six men and four women - will represent McNeese in this year's national competition. The men's team includes: Winn Ratliff, Leesville, in bareback riding and bull riding; brothers Johnathan and Josh Torres, Ocala, Fla., and Jeremy Mercer, Winnsboro, team roping; Jason Thomas, Benton, Ark., steer wrestling; and Josh Little, Sulphur, bareback riding. The women's team includes: Chelsea Carroll, Opelousas, breakaway roping and goat tying; and Kyla Foster, Sweetlake, Kayla Wagnon, Kirbyville, Texas, and Jordan Dupont, Iowa, goat tying. The teams are coached by Justin Browning.
"This is an outstanding achievement for Justin and our students," said Dr. Chip LeMieux, head of the Harold and Pearl Dripps Agricultural Sciences Department at McNeese.
Rodeo has been a part of McNeese since 1947 when the first rodeo team was formed and has had a rich tradition of winning for over six decades. The tradition began in the 1950s with the McNeese men's rodeo team winning three consecutive national championships from 1957 to 1959 and has also included 10 men's and women's national individual rodeo championships and two reserve championships from 1958-2008.
"Winning championships requires dedication and hard work," said Browning. Team members usually put in 12- to 16-hour days. The students get up early to feed their animals, go to class, go to work, practice and study. A usual day is from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
The rodeo season consists of 10 rodeos and McNeese competes in the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association Southern Region. At the season's final rodeo competition at Wharton County Community College, the women's team finished in first place, while the men's team finished in second place.
For the season, Browning said the men's team finished first in the Southern Region for the third year in a row, while the women's team finished in second place. Ratliff finished in first place in the men's all around, while Carroll finished in second place in the women's all around.
The NIRA crowns individual event champions and national champions for both men's and women's teams. Over 400 students from more than 100 universities and colleges will compete in this year's event. The top three students in each individual event and the top two men's and women's teams from the NIRA's 11 regions qualify for the national finals.
"Our men's team is seasoned. Ratliff and Thomas are making their third trip to the national rodeo finals, while Little, Mercer and Josh Torres are making their second trip," said Browning. "The women's team is young, but very strong. I know both of our teams are going to be contenders at nationals."
The McNeese rodeo program has a long-standing tradition of success in the Southern Region and at the College National Finals, according to LeMieux.
"Since McNeese has the only college rodeo team in the state these students are not only representing McNeese State University but also the entire state," said LeMieux. "As Justin mentions, these students spend many hours juggling academics, work and rodeo (college and professional). When you think of everything these students have to manage, it is amazing that they are able to keep up not to mention being a national contender year in and year out. These students have to have a greater level of maturity to keep everything going in the right direction. The added benefits of the hard work are the life skills these students acquire through this process. Without a doubt it will make them more successful after they complete their degree."
LeMieux said the rodeo team is currently working to raise additional funds for the trip to Casper. The team will be hosting a showcase at the beginning of June (to be announced), which will include a dinner and an exhibition by the team members attending the rodeo finals. The team will also host a goat tying and breakaway jackpot May 31 at Burton Coliseum. For more information about these events, contact Coach Browning at (337) 475-5690.