Wasatch Academy wants to be ‘America’s Rodeo High School’
With School’s ‘top notch’ approach, new team is doing well in only its second year
By John Hales
Sept. 21, 2017
MT. PLEASANT—When hundreds of young cowboys and cowgirls entered Contoy Arena last Saturday to compete in a high school rodeo, they were met by signs and printed programs proclaiming, “Wasatch Academy: America’s Rodeo High School.”
Some might think the statement to be a little ambitious for a school with a rodeo program in only its second year.
But, says Wasatch Academy Rodeo “coach” and organization president Todd Tree, the school’s feelings about having a rodeo team are a lot like the feelings of rodeo competitors themselves: “Go big or go home.”
“Wasatch’s approach to anything they do—they want anything they do to be top notch,” Tree said shortly before the team’s first rodeo in mid-August, even before school officially started.
So, after 10 years of an equestrian program that had mainly featured English riding, Tree says, “We just decided that we wanted to set up our own high school rodeo team, (and) give the kids more opportunity to compete.”
So, the rodeo team was born, including Tree’s son, Jaden, from Mt. Pleasant and Little Britches star (and current national champion) Makayla Brown from Moroni.
Wasatch Academy’s team is different from most.
Rodeo is not sanctioned by the Utah High School Activities Association. There is, instead, a Utah High School Rodeo Association. The teams that participate are not official high school teams. They are more like “clubs” and usually include members from schools throughout a region.
That means a couple of things. First, it means kids and their families bear most of the cost of the activity. Generally, there’s no school subsidization for equipment or uniforms, with horses being some of the most expensive pieces of “equipment” for any school activity.
It also means the students themselves have to be self-driven and determined.
But at Wasatch Academy, rodeo is an official program. There are daily practices, and the school helps with boarding horses and with feed. And while the school itself is invested in the team, the dedication and devotion of team members is no less than found in clubs elsewhere in the state.
“You have to want to practice every day and work to do your best at everything,” says Brown.
She understates it a little. Practices can go from two to four hours each day, and they aren’t like team practices; they are largely individual. Competitions themselves do not have team composite results.
Wasatch, Todd Tree indicates, wants to make the rodeo program something the school is known for, an add-on to its successful equestrian program, which has helped spur a local interest in English-style riding among non-students.
There were seven members of the rodeo team its first year. Looking ahead to its second year, and in keeping with its “top notch” philosophy, the school offered rodeo scholarships to a couple of girls from Texas and Georgia, “kids,” Tree says, “we thought were outstanding students, who fit Wasatch’s mission and mold of a student, but who also wanted to come and rodeo.”
That’s the way you say it. You don’t “do” rodeo or “participate in” rodeo—you just rodeo.
That speaks to the intimate nature of the sport, and the intense passion and dedication its devotees have.
The “team” in rodeo team, to hear students and supporters talk about it, is more between horse and rider than among individual members.
“You have to have a good relationship with your horses,” Brown says. “You have to bond with your horse. You have to trust you horse, and your horse has to trust you. You have to work together to become a good team.”
Based on the way rodeoers speak of the bond, it’s even more intimate than two beings that just work well together. There’s a subtle but important difference. Brown says,” It’s like one person going in, but there’s two of you.”
The Wasatch team is doing well, with several members placing regularly in the top 20 percent or so in certain events. One of the more outstanding competitors is Jaden Tree, who has two first-places, a third-place and a fifth-place in cow cutting so far this year.