Gooding offers a reunion for former College of Southern Idaho greats
GOODING, Idaho – For many of ProRodeo’s greatest stars, their summertime visit to this community of 3,700 souls is a refreshing stop on a busy regular season.
For others, it’s a return to their old stomping grounds, the intercollegiate homes that helped propel them toward the top of the sport’s stratosphere. There are former members of the rodeo team at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls, and there’s a laundry list of elite cowboys and cowgirls that are proud alumni of the institution.
“Going back to Gooding is a little reunion for me,” said bareback rider Orin Larsen, an eight-time National Finals Rodeo qualifier from Ingles, Manitoba, and the 2013 college champion while at CSI. “You run into old college classmates and old friends that you may not have seen in many years, or your run into some that you see year after year.
“I’ve always had a lot of support in southern Idaho. They treated me very well. It’s like coming back to a second home.”
He plans to make the trip for the Gooding Pro Rodeo, set for Thursday, Aug. 17-Saturday, Aug. 19, with a special “Beauty and the Beast” performance set for Wednesday, Aug. 16. All performances take place at 8 p.m. at Andy James Arena.
The college is represented in the ProRodeo Hall of Fame by two multi-time world champion bronc riders in Shawn Davis (a three-time titlist and former coach at CSI) and Cody Wright (a two-time winner). The latter, who was inducted earlier this month into the Colorado Springs shrine, also passed along his affection to two brothers, 2014 world champion Spencer Wright and 2012 titlist Jesse Wright, and Cody Wright’s oldest son, Rusty. Combined, they have 17 NFR qualifications and status to folks in Twin Falls.
There are also a few other Golden Eagles that have played on the sport’s biggest stage, including bareback rider Mason Clements, bronc rider Mitch Pollock and cowgirl Cassie Bahe, who advanced to the inaugural National Finals Breakaway Roping in 2020.
“It was a pretty easy decision for me to choose to go to school there,” said Larsen, who also won the 2014 National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association crown after transferring to Oklahoma Panhandle State University. “They practiced a lot, and that was real important to me. I got the reference from Kelly Wardell, and that was back before he was coaching. He’s been with me since Day 1 of my career. He was in the vicinity.
“The College of Southern Idaho always had a great rodeo program, but I liked that they didn’t just give away opportunities; they treated it that you had to earn it through practice and earn it through the competition. That drove me to be better.”
Pollock had no intentions of being part of CSI’s rodeo team when he arrived on campus more than a decade ago. He’d begun his college career playing baseball in Pendleton, Oregon, and transferred to Twin Falls in order to give himself a chance after a shoulder injury. Still unable to make it work, he opted to test his skills in rodeo.
“I transferred to the College of Southern Idaho, and after a year and a half of catching bullpens and not seeing my baseball career progress, I decided to step over to the expo center to start rodeoing for Cody DeMers and Steve Birnie,” said Pollock, a 2019 NFR qualifier. “I was 21 years old when I got on my first bucking horse. I’d been on horses before, but I’d never tried to ride a bucking horse.
“I stepped off with a big smile on my face, and I knew what I was going to do the rest of my life. I love the Twin Falls area. It’s a little prettier than Nevada.”
Pollock is from Winnemucca, Nevada, but he’s lived in Twin Falls since his college days. He and his wife, Jordan, have made a home there. Like all the others, he loves the opportunity to compete in Gooding.
“That’s a cool damn rodeo for being such a small community and being able to put on such a large event,” he said. “The atmosphere and the community that supports that rodeo is why I love it so much. They’re farmers and ranchers, and they follow rodeo. They watch it on The Cowboy Channel. They treat me like I’m a hometown kid. When (announcer) Steve Kenyon calls my name in Gooding, I can hear all my family and friends, and they’re excited to watch me. It’s something special.
“They’re all involved in every ride, every ride, and then there’s the ‘Beer Worthy’ section. I think because everybody is so involved in that rodeo is why the atmosphere is like it is. Even if someone gets bucked off, the crowd is still there. If someone misses in team roping, they’re still there.”
Best known for the section of ladies that hands out beer to a great ride, a great run or a great wreck, the Gooding Pro Rodeo is all about atmosphere. The fans love it, and the contestants love watching and interacting with the fans.
“They’ve always improved or tried to improve every year,” Larsen said. “You can’t talk about Gooding and not talk about the ‘Beer Worthy’ section. I’ve actually never been beer worthy, but one of my goals is to be beer worthy at least once.”
It’s definitely a drawing card for the sport’s biggest stars.
“It’s just super special to get to perform at that rodeo,” Pollock said. “Even if I get bucked off, I’m still looking for that ‘Beer Worthy’ sign. There’s nothing better than getting off your horse and drinking an ice cold beer right there.”