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The CMU Rodeo Team creates a new event for District 51 students with exceptionalities

Many who grew up in the American West or in rural parts of the United States have celebrated the cowboy culture by attending a rodeo or two and perhaps even participated in one.

Yet for some, rodeos can be a challenging place. They’re loud and crowded. Gravel parking lots, dirt pathways and stairs make accessibility difficult. To overcome these barriers, CMU Rodeo Coach Branden Edwards and his team came up with a way to share their way of life with students with exceptionalities by creating the first Exceptional Rodeo.

“Our goal is to try and make our sport accessible on a really personal and hands-on level to students who might not be able to access [the rodeo] or feel comfortable accessing it in the grand stands,” said Edwards.

The idea was to build a safe space to introduce students with various challenges to the cowboy culture through engagement with livestock and rodeo events like roping and riding, and on April 7, that’s exactly what they did.

More than 100 students in special education classes from six different schools in the Mesa County Valley School District  51 (D51) visited the Mesa County Fairgrounds and met the CMU rodeo team along with baby goats and horses.

“My heart is so happy. I said I had allergies earlier but I actually teared up,” said D51 High School Special Education Specialist Sonia Gates. “One of our goals in the district is to help our students transition into the community after they leave high school, whether that be work, volunteering or having the self-determination to enjoy leisure activities. This is a huge thing for the kids to be able to do because it gives them the opportunity to say ‘I’ve never experienced this before but it’s really cool so how do I get involved.’”

Gates watched as her students participated in activities they didn’t think they were capable of and challenged themselves in a way that allowed them to truly flourish. As for Edwards and his team, they were impressed with the students and their willingness to give the cowboy legacy a try.

“Anytime you can make a human connection and people come together you can see they radiate joy off each other. The fact that here you have two crowds of people who would probably never interact on a daily basis by happenstance, now we have a connection and we have roots and we have friendships,” said Edwards. “How can you be out here and not have your heart full, you know?”

The event offered students a unique experience and a window into an integral part of our country’s past and the western heritage of today. Perhaps more importantly, students got to witness an example of resiliency.

The cowboy way of life teaches us that when you get bucked off, you get back in the saddle. It’s a lesson we can all learn from. The CMU Rodeo Team believes no matter who you are, or where you're from, you’re welcome in the cowboy culture.


Written by Kelsey Coleman