By CHARLES TWEED
The Broncs Rodeo Academy and Equine Therapy Program may be the second such academy in Canada but there’s no question the program will draw first rate student athletes from the area and potentially from around the world.
The program in its first year at Ponoka Composite High School (PCHS), is taught by certified teacher Alex Cripps. Cripps’ education in the classroom is made more impressive by his education in the arena.
A four-time Canadian Finalist and former Canadian Professional Rodeo Association season leader in the steer wrestling event, Cripps believes the program is just getting started.
“I’ve been contacted by kids in B.C. and all across Alberta that want to come to the academy — realistically where else can you get instructor practice twice a week and go to school?” said Cripps.
One of the important features of the program is the opportunity it gives young cowboys and cowgirls to stay in school while furthering their rodeo career. In years past, many kids had to be home-schooled or left school altogether to pursue their dream in the rodeo.
“My big goal is getting them scholarships, there are so many of them out there for rodeo in the states and since the (U.S.) colleges went with one-for-one equal scholarships, it’s opened so many doors for the girls,” said Cripps.
He remembers how tough it was trying to get scholarships for himself, on his own, when he was young and hopes that the connections he has made and lifelong friends that have been formed through his rodeo days can help some of his students.
“It’s one thing about high school rodeo and junior rodeo, you get to know kids from all over the province and you grow up rodeoing with them and it makes for a tight-knit family,” said Cripps.
“Through my rodeo days, I know quite a few coaches and former pro-rodeoers that coach down there at the colleges and I know they love Canadian kids because they’re scholastic too.”
Cripps is passionate about the academy and believes the benefits are threefold for student athletes enrolled in a sports performance program. First, students are given the opportunity to improve their timed event skills, fitness and abilities in the rodeo arena or equine and agriculture studies. Second, the student athletes will have access to a multitude of post-secondary opportunities for student rodeo athletes and agriculturally geared students. And finally, the program will provide high school student athletes with the skills, knowledge and experience necessary for employment in the agriculture sector.
“The truth is there isn’t a lot of guys that make a living in professional rodeo, there’s a few, but not many. The big idea is to keep kids in school and give them some post-secondary opportunities. Make them realize they’ve got these opportunities and they can use this to get there. You need something to fall back on,” said Cripps.
Klay Rowley is a student who wants to become a professional rodeoer but understands the benefit of doing something you love while potentially getting your education paid for.
“I love it so far, and Alex went to the CFR a bunch of times and Trigger Pugh, he comes out and helps us all the time, every instruction benefit you could get, it’s all here,” said Rowley.
Last year, Rowley was home-schooled, trying to fit school around rodeo. He hopes the program will open doors to scholarships in the United States.
“You get time to do your homework and rodeo, it’s too good of an opportunity to pass up — I want to get a scholarship and go to school down in the (United) States and then be a team roper or a bulldogger,” said Rowley.
“It opens so many opportunities and if you’re not keeping your grades up, you don’t get to practice. It’s awesome, it guarantees you have good marks and it makes you succeed in rodeo.”
The students put in an hour a day at the arena but Cripps said most of them are there every night after school taking advantage of the facilities and honing their skills.
The arena and classroom could soon get a substantial upgrade as well. Although no formal deal has been struck yet, plans are in place for the program to move to the new Ponoka Ag Event Centre next year.
The idea being the academy could use the centre for a nominal fee during the week and in return the students — who have to complete 125 hours of work experience — could help clean pens and work events on the weekend.
“We haven’t signed anything yet but we’ve reached agreement with the High School Rodeo Academy for finishing the classroom upstairs and they are fired up about it. It is just tremendous,” said Charlie Cutforth, president of the Ponoka Ag Event Centre Society.
The deal would also see the high school use some Skills Canada money to build pens outside the centre; a win-win, allowing welding students at PCHS a chance to Grade 11 Ponoka Composite High School Student Nick Smith comes get hands on experience fabricating cattle pens.