When Allen and Deborah Clyde of Clovis began to see a steady decline in participants for bareback and saddle bronc rodeo events five years ago, they decided to take action.
So in 2010, they and friend Rocky Steagall created Bronc Riders of California, a program that aimed to encourage riders to participate in the sport, build their rodeo skills — and get a college education.
The program offers promising saddle and bareback bronc riders a place to practice and train — and up to $5,000 a year in scholarship money.
“As far as rough stock events go, there are pitifully low numbers of kids that actually have degrees and go on to be successful,” said Allen Clyde, a doctor of podiatry, owner of a packhorse outfitter, and a long-time Fresno County school board member. “That’s what I want to change and I’ve started, because in my opinion that’s what the future of rodeo is — you have to tie it to quality education.”
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The first two scholarship recipients, Uhuru Adem, 23, and Justin Lawrence, 22, graduated from Fresno State in May. Two more — senior Colin Letson, 22, and sophomore K.C. Nabors, 19 — are on Bronc Riders scholarships at the university. Clyde hopes that within two years the program can support six or eight students.
We could just produce cattle bums, but that doesn’t do any good. We want these kids to become leaders after they finish their professional rodeo career.
Allen Clyde, co-founder of Bronc Riders of California
Clyde said he never has competed in rodeos, but has been involved with them for about 35 years. He operates a commercial pack outfitter and a cattle company. But his partner in the project, Rocky Steagall, is a former professional bareback bronc rider and now a judge in the sport.
It is at Steagall’s ranch near Sanger that about 20 young trainees in the program practice. Some are Fresno State students, others attend junior colleges or are still in high school, hoping to polish their skills and possibly compete for rodeo prizes — and money for college.
“For these kids to purposely get on these horses and match their athletic ability with the broncs, it’s unbelievable,” Clyde said.
Promoting the sport
Steagall has known Clyde for about 18 years, and said he was happy when Clyde came to him and said there needs to be a place for kids to learn how to ride broncs — horses specially trained to test a rider’s ability at staying in the saddle. The two immediately sat down and found a way, Steagall said.
The program’s mission is to promote saddle and bareback bronc riding, with a focus on technique and safety, to high school and college students, and to provide college scholarships. They have managed to raise money from a variety of individuals, businesses and groups with an interest in rodeo and livestock, and all the money goes to fund the scholarships.
Art Parham, coach and adviser of the Fresno State club rodeo team, said Clyde’s program has been a godsend. Few people, he said, make enough money to do rodeo and pay their bills at the same time.
“It’s essential in my view, and Allen’s view, to give these kids an education as a benefit to rodeo,” Parham said. “But the most important thing is to have a degree in their hand.”
The bronc riders scholarship program may be unique, said Sarah Neely, spokeswoman for the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association. From her knowledge, the Bronc Riders is the only program with a scholarship that is tied to a particular college.
This year Clyde started a smaller scholarship program that benefits sophomores at West Hills College Coalinga. For these students he matches the scholarship amount from West Hills, provided the students maintain a 3.5 GPA or better.
“They have to have the grades and study habits in junior college in order to be successful at Fresno State,” he said.
It’s essential in my view ... to give these kids an education as a benefit to rodeo. But the most important thing is to have a degree in their hand.
Art Parham, coach and adviser of the Fresno State club rodeo team
The Clydes and Steagall don’t need to scout for riders to join their program. Clyde’s cattle company provides horses for Central Valley high school rodeos. He said that many of the high school students are familiar with him, his wife and Steagall whether from rodeos or researching them on Facebook or the Bronc Riders website.
“The kids find us, ask about our program and if they’re students in good-standing and want to join, then they come into our program,” Clyde said.
On the circuit
He said he has witnessed many high school riders who make school secondary, goof off and want to be like the cowboys they see on TV.
“It’s not until they learn about the Bronc Riders program from one of us that they realize school is vital,” Clyde said. “Once they hear what the program offers they hit the books, work out and they are focused.”
It’s fun to see the transition of these young high school kids into young adults and that’s what the focus on education does.
Allen Clyde, co-founder of Bronc Riders of California
Clyde said he was introduced to Adem and Lawrence at various area rodeos.
Adem, originally from Glennville, east of Delano, picked up the rodeo event at 17. His life in the rodeo world, though, began around age 4, when he started dummy roping and riding sheep for competition.
Before moving to Fresno, Adem attended Feather River College in the small town of Quincy, northeast of Sacramento, from 2010-12 mainly to focus on rodeo. Since the community college was in the same rodeo region as Fresno State, Adem said, Clyde would see him compete at weekend rodeos.
“When I first met him,” Clyde recalled, “duct tape was literally holding his soles on his shoes as they were falling apart and he had a borrowed saddle that looked like it had been dragged behind a car.”
Despite the condition of his gear, Clyde said, Adem could still strap the saddle on, go out and ride like a guy who had potential to compete in the National Finals Rodeo, the Super Bowl for rodeo that is held every December in Las Vegas.
The Glennville junior rodeo is where Clyde met Adem’s best friend, Lawrence, a Sanger resident, and after he explained the program Lawrence was sold on joining.
“Justin not only had his bronc riding strategy worked out, but he had his academics worked out, as well,” Clyde said. “As a seriously focused individual, he is mature beyond his years.”
Lawrence said he wouldn’t have been able to attend Fresno State if it wasn’t for a scholarship and the Bronc Riders. Adem said the scholarship helped him stay in school and focus on competing.
That’s the goal of the program, Clyde said — to put out good scholars as well as good riders.
“We could just produce cattle bums, but that doesn’t do any good,” Clyde said. “We want these kids to become leaders after they finish their professional rodeo career.”
Bronc Riders of California
For more information on the Bronc Riders of California, visit broncridersofcalifornia.org. To donate, contact Allen Clyde at 559-298-7397.