Drew Pearson, head rodeo coach at Treasure Valley Community College, trains his team at practice Monday, Oct. 7. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

ONTARIO – Cowboys and cowgirls from 13 colleges in the Northwest are gearing up for three days of rodeo hosted by Treasure Valley Community College.

Roughly 145 student athletes will compete at the Malheur County Fairgrounds in the region’s kickoff college rodeo Friday, followed by the TVCC Chukar rodeo Saturday. 

“This rodeo’s different because you get to see young talent on display that eventually one day you might see on TV at the national rodeo in Las Vegas,” said Drew Pearson, TVCC rodeo coach. 

The Friday event will begin at 6 p.m. with slack beginning at noon. For the Saturday event, slack starts at 10 a.m. and the performance is at 6 p.m. 

The top performing athletes from Saturday will compete Sunday in short-go action starting at 10 a.m.

Admission is $5 for adults, $3 for ages 12-18, and free for under 12. TVCC students, faculty and staff get in free with college ID.

Pearson is in his fourth year at the helm of the college’s rodeo program. Since he began, the program has taken at least half a dozen students each year to the College National Finals Rodeo in Wyoming.   

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“The team we have here has a legitimate shot at having a really good weekend,” Pearson said.

There are 47 student athletes in rodeo at TVCC this year, up from 21 when Pearson started. 

“We have kids coming from Hawaii, Arizona, Canada as well as local talent. It’s really booming,” Pearson said. 

He attributes the success to an evolution in the program over the past few years. Pearson said the robust staff of three coaches puts more emphasis on practice than other colleges in the region, and it’s paying off.  

Whitney Slack, from Spring Creek, Nevada, is a freshman in the animal science program at TVCC.

Slack heard about the college’s rodeo program from a friend who had enrolled the previous year and spoke highly of the rodeo team and its coaches.

Slack will be representing the Chukars in four events Friday and Saturday: barrel racing, team roping, breakaway roping and goat tying.  

“I grew up in this lifestyle,” Slack said. “I don’t do sports. Rodeo is my sport.”

Pearson thinks Slack has a good shot at competing Sunday, too. 

Pearson said his students are no different than a volleyball or basketball player on a college team. 

The Chukars are one of about a half dozen college rodeo teams in the northwest that provide scholarships. 

Greg Shannon, originally from Washington, will compete in the bull-riding event Friday. Shannon is three credits shy of graduating with his criminal justice degree from TVCC and will then transfer elsewhere, but the college’s rodeo program and Pearson’s reputation are what kept Shannon in the region.

“I think we’re gonna win the region. I’m gonna bet we go back to the college national finals and bring back some wins,” Shannon predicted. “We have a really stacked team.”

Have a news tip? Reporter Yadira Lopez: yadira@malheurenterprise.com or 541-473-3377

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