Kusek column: Fans step up for MSU rodeo

2013-06-04T22:00:00Z 2013-06-05T05:32:06Z Kusek column: Fans step up for MSU rodeo The Billings Gazette

A quick glance up tells the story.

Each team at Montana State University that wins a Big Sky Conference or national championship is honored with a banner in Brick Breeden Field House. The banners form an impressive circle around the inside of the building.

But a closer look reveals another anecdote.

The most successful athletic program on campus is not football, basketball or even skiing.

Heck, it’s not even considered part of the athletic department anymore.

It’s a rodeo program that has produced eight national championship teams – six men and two women – along with 33 individual intercollegiate national champions. Two of its alumni, Dan Mortensen and Bud Munroe, are former world champions and in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame.

It is a legacy unmatched by any collegiate sports program within this state.

The MSU women’s rodeo team won the national title in 2011; for the men, the drought has been a little longer.

The last banner raised for the men was for the 1995 team.

The Bobcats have flat-out dominated the Big Sky Region for almost a decade now. The two teams, again, swept both year-end team titles.

And while dominant at home, the Bobcats have stumbled at times at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo.

Some alumni and friends of the program want that to change.

“We need to compete at the national level,’’ said Butch Bratsky, a banker from Billings, who was the national intercollegiate bull riding champion for MSU in 1974.

Bratsky, along with six others, spearheaded a volunteer leadership group that makes MSU the first university rodeo program in the nation to endow more than $1 million in private support.

The group made the presentation at the Bobcats annual spring rodeo in April.

Donations came from individuals and corporations. Most of the money comes from within driving distance of the university, but some also came from Arizona, the Chicago suburbs and Texas.

“The support really did surprise us,’’ said Bratsky, adding the fundraising was a year-long effort. “Folks really stepped up to the plate.”

Of the $1 million pledged, $750,000 will go to student-athlete scholarships, while the other $250,000 goes toward operational costs, which includes travel expenses, leases, feed for practice livestock and rent for practice facilities.

The endowment is supervised by the MSU Alumni Association.

“It’s big. I’m thrilled,’’ said MSU head rodeo coach Mike True. “What it does is build a financial base and allow us to grow for years to come.

“We needed this for stability. We’ve been a hand-to-mouth operation. Our spring rodeo is our big fundraiser.”

“And we cross our fingers when we pay the bills,’’ True finished with a laugh.

True said the infusion of money will create 16 more scholarships for a program that is 72-percent in-state talent.

“What it gives us is the ability to scholarship a few more kids and scholarship a few more kids even better,’’ True said. “It’s a spread-the-wealth deal. We’ll be able to do more for our athletes.

“This allows us to compete with some of the bigger programs in the U.S.”

And the fundraising is far from over.

“We’re still taking donations,’’ said Bratsky. “We want to keep this thing going. We got to a million, let’s make it 1.2 million.”

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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