Tram Nguyen and Benjy Egel
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Most schools are well-known for some sport. But what’s Cal Poly’s traditional sport?
“(Cal Poly Rodeo) is a very legendary program within the rodeo,” said Ben Londo, head coach of the Cal Poly Rodeo team. “People know Cal Poly is to rodeo like Notre Dame is to football.”
Londo and his program will bring back the annual Poly Royal Rodeo for the 74th time this Friday (at 6 p.m.) and Saturday (at 5 p.m.) on the rodeo grounds. It is a competition among six colleges in the West Coast region: Cal Poly; University of Nevada, Las Vegas; Feather River College; West Hills College; Lassen College and California State University, Fresno.
Nearly 225 members will compete in 10 rodeo events. General admission tickets are $10 and free for children 5 and under.
The competitions for men are:
- Bareback riding
- Saddle bronc riding
- Bull riding
- Tie-down roping
- Team roping
- Steer wrestling
The competitions for women are:
- Breakaway roping
- Team roping
- Goat tying
- Barrel racing
Each school has a 10-member team (six men and four women). Athletes compete for points, which are awarded for placing sixth or higher in each competition. Team points are a total of chosen individuals’ points and counted toward team standings.
After the Poly Royal Rodeo, points will be added up throughout each region’s season, and the top four in each event will qualify for the College National Finals Rodeo. The top two teams in each region qualify for the national finals.
“(We have) a really good team,” Londo said. “This program has more national championships than any other college rodeo program.”
The program includes 24 women and 18 men from different areas and demographics; half are freshmen this year.
Londo’s favorite part of Poly Royal is its long-standing tradition and the number of champions Cal Poly has produced.
“All of them have gone through this college and this rodeo program, and just knowing that this represents that much history is pretty amazing,” Londo said.
Besides the sports competitions, Poly Royal Rodeo also has a pageant where a queen will be elected.
Beauty, however, is not one of the requirements of this pageant. Cal Poly Rodeo looks for horsemanship, public speaking and character.
“It’s kind of like a cross between a beauty pageant and a PR job,” Londo said.
Students raised more than $35,000 this year in sponsorships for Poly Royal by selling advertisement space at the event. The money raised will go to scholarships for students, Cal Poly Rodeo program’s long-term projects and fixing facilities on the rodeo grounds.
“Everything is old and run-down, and we’re looking into the future,” Londo said.
Construction management sophomore Hunter Reaume participated in the event last year and will be competing in team roping and calf roping (tie-down roping) this year.
“The experience is awesome,” he said. “It’s what we do. It’s kind of our life.”
Reaume said he practices rodeo a couple hours every day and has been playing the sport since he was 5 years old.
“Shout out to coach Ben (Londo) for the work he’s done,” Reaume said. “He deserves a huge round of applause. And everybody else has just been doing a lot of work and put a lot of time in.”
History of Poly Royal
It’s not a coincidence that Poly Royal Rodeo comes at the same time as Open House. In fact, Open House used to be called Poly Royal, and Poly Royal Rodeo is just part of a big umbrella.
In 1904, the first Open House event took place on campus, at that time known as “The Farmers’ Institute and Basket Picnic.” The event was aimed to celebrate the university’s Learn By Doing philosophy, according to archives at the Robert E. Kennedy Library.
More than 200 visitors attended that first Farmers’ Picnic where they toured the school’s new buildings, ate barbecue and listened to a speech by trustee E. J. Wickson, a member of the agricultural faculty at the University of California, Berkeley.
Farmers’ Institute became so popular that in 1913, more than 3,000 people attended the event. But by the 1920s, the event had disappeared, thought to be a victim of funding uncertainties.
In 1933, a new campus Open House event developed — the first Poly Royal.
On March 31, 1933, “hundreds of visitors from the coast counties and the San Joaquin Valley thronged the California Polytechnic campus for the first annual Poly Royal agricultural show,” the San Luis Obispo Daily Telegram reported.
Besides Poly Royal Rodeo, other popular events held at the first Poly Royal included horticulture judging, tours of the industrial shops, a baseball game and presentations of awards.
One custom of Poly Royal was the selection of the Poly Royal Queen and her attendants.
Jane Horton Bailey of San Luis Obispo was voted the first Poly Royal Queen at the second annual Poly Royal in 1934.
As Poly Royal became more and more popular, it started to offer crowd-pleasing competitions that attracted both locals and students: cow milking, mail-driving, tractor pull, pole-climbing, rodeo and others.
However, Poly Royal’s attractiveness itself put the event to an end.
On, April 27 in 1990, more than 1,000 people gathered near campus. They threw rocks and beer bottles, overturned cars and vandalized stores and residences along California Boulevard until they were subdued by the police.
This led to arrests and a reexamination of Poly Royal.
“Authorities cited out-of-town revelers, alcohol abuse, and the crowds of more than 100,000 swelling the campus and town for the celebration as factors contributing to the melee,” according to the library’s archives.
Poly Royal was suspended until 1994 — then relaunched under the name Open House — and is much smaller than the traditional event, though talks are in place to bring it back to its former glory.