As a part of a reshaping plan for Hastings College, retiring President Don Jackson announced the impending elimination of the Hastings College Rodeo team last Tuesday, Jan. 31 in a campus wide email. The email included numerous items regarding the operational deficits over the past “several years” and began outlining the school’s effort to conserve money where they can.
One of the areas the board of trustees saw fit for change was the athletic department. After conducting their research and meetings, the conclusion that the board arrived at was to discontinue the rodeo program, effective after the 2017-2018 school year.
“Basically how the prioritization process went was, we looked at all these different areas and then we compared (the data we collected),” Athletic Director Patty Sitorius said. “We had Chris (Clements, assistant athletic director), myself and another member of the leadership team sit down with all the information. . . (and) we had directives: Where can we cut? Where can we invest or reinvest and make better? Where can we be a little bit more efficient?”
While the Hastings College community, primarily the rodeo team, expressed their immediate outrage after hearing the news, there was significant consideration behind the decision. Sitorius referenced the history of the rodeo program to put things in perspective.
The HC rodeo program began in 2008 through a generous donation by former Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, Bobby Gotsch, who remained the primary donor throughout the end of his life. When he passed away in August of 2011, his family fundraised to create a scholarship fund for future students. The fundraising campaign also included a “Rodeo Fund” to ensure the program would continue in the years following his death.
Unfortunately, the financial requirements of a rodeo program exceeded the donation left by Gotsch and his family, Additionally, the unique nature of the sport means that the college cannot provide the facilities necessary to sustain a rodeo program. However, it is a testament to the Gotsch family and the other donors involved, that the program will have lasted as long as it did, said Sitorius.
Enrollment also played an important role in the decision to cut the rodeo program. Over the past four years, the rodeo roster has steadily decreased. The program has downsized from 21 student athletes in 2014-2015 to just 17 in 2016-2017. While the difference may seem small, no first-year students joined the team this year, and there is limited population for recruiting.
“We are not drawing enough students to make it work, and there is probably not a large enough pool out there to make it work,” Jackson said.
Although the news of the program’s discontinuation is painful for several members of the HC community, the Board of Trustees, along with the athletic department, have considered ways to minimize the impact.
“We did walk through all of the changes that we are proposing with (the Board of Trustees). . . and that led to one donor family deciding to underwrite the losses for the rodeo program for next year to make sure we could smooth that out for those students who are a part of the rodeo program,” Jackson said.
With the support of the donor family, all but three of the current members on the rodeo team will be able to finish their rodeo career at Hastings College. There has also been mention of the potential for individuals to continue to compete in rodeo on their own.
“I think absolutely it can (be continued at an individual level),” Sitorius said. “It’s just that there won’t be any financial support from the institution. . . It would be a tough go without having a figurehead to run it, but that was talked about and I think President Jackson indicated that he would be very happy to have those conversations.”
While the rodeo program is the only specific change in athletics announced in Jackson’s email, the “prioritization of athletic resources” will also affect the other athletic programs through the reduction of an estimated $405,000 from the department’s resources over the next two years.
“We took time (with the prioritization),” Sitorius said. “We know we did a very thorough job and we knew that the decisions that we were going to have to make were not going to be popular. . . if you’re running at a deficit you’ve got to make some changes.”