University of West Alabama folks have for years told anyone who would listen, "There’s Something About This Place." They believed it and lived it, even before it became the official slogan of the university.
What makes UWA special? Some can click off a list as long as your arm. Others say it’s simply a feeling.
Then there are those who point in one direction, toward one particular program, that they believe makes UWA special.
Gus Maraman is a UWA sophomore from Andalusia who participates in calf roping and steer wrestling events. The University of West Alabama is the annual host to some of the top male and female rodeo participants in the Ozark Region each fall in Livingston at the UWA Tiger Wrangler Rodeo, attended by hundreds of fans from throughout the Southeast and Midwest.
That program is intercollegiate rodeo. The UWA Rodeo Team competes in the Ozark Region of the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association.
UWA is currently the only institution of higher learning in Alabama offering student-athletes the opportunity to compete in intercollegiate rodeo, and, over the years, the Tiger Wranglers have continued to make UWA proud.
"UWA is the only school in Alabama with a college rodeo team," said Tiger Wrangler Head Coach Alex Caudle. "Since 2013, our recruiting numbers have drastically increased since then. For example, in 2013, there were 10 students on our team. Today, there are 32."
Caudle was a member of the UWA Rodeo Team from 2007-2011, where he was a College Nationals Finals Rodeo qualifier and the Ozark Region Reserve Champion tie-down roper in 2010. In 2012, Caudle was the International Professional Rodeo Association World Champion Rookie of the Year in tie-down roping.
Established in 1995 under the direction of UWA President Don Hines, Director of Athletics Dee Outlaw and Coach David Rickman, the fledgling Tiger Wrangler program consisted of 22 student-athletes, 17 of which were men.
By April 1998, UWA was winning rodeos. Before too long, the Tiger Wranglers were advancing to regional showdowns and to the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyoming. UWA rodeo has been represented at the CNFR for the last 12 years, including four Tigers in June 2016.
Zachary Wilson, a senior on the 2016 team, won the 2013 national championship in tie-down roping. With a 9.9 in the final round, Wilson posted an average of 38.1 and scored 185 points to become UWA’s first national champion since the 1971 football team.
Since the inception of rodeo on the UWA campus, the Tiger women have won the Ozark Region Championship five times. The men have been runner-up three times.
The Tiger Wranglers generally participate in 10 rodeos each year, five in the fall and five during the spring semester.
Every fall, the Tiger Wranglers host the UWA College Rodeo Showdown. Teams from all over the Ozark Region make their way to Livingston for the event, including hundreds of cowboys and cowgirls.
The annual Rodeo Showdown takes place at the Don C. Hines Rodeo Complex Arena, built, thanks in a large part, to boosters donating around $60,000 about the time of the program’s inception.
While there is indeed "Something About This Place," the current UWA slogan, "Do Something That Matters," is coming to fruition with the pending development of the Black Belt Regional Arena to be located on the UWA campus.
The proposed multipurpose arena will not only enhance possibilities to grow UWA Rodeo but will also expand, enhance and support agri-business and agri-tourism, and equine and related educational programs in the Black Belt region.
"Our home rodeo is our biggest fundraiser and the biggest event on campus each year," said Caudle, who earned 2015 NIRA Ozark Region Coach of the Year honors. "Folks in the community and the region really come out and support us.
"The rodeo costs about $25,000 to host and sponsorships we sell get great exposure in nice weather. If our rodeo falls on a wet, nasty weekend and without a covered arena, we compete in the mud.
"On a wet weekend, no one comes to watch and the sponsors don’t get the best bang for their advertising dollars. With a covered arena, everyone would still come and enjoy the action, and our advertisers get their money’s worth."
The proposed 76,000 square foot Black Belt Regional Arena is expected not only to be a boon for Caudle’s program but for the entire Black Belt region. Nineteen Alabama counties comprise the Black Belt that is not only perfect for crops but also for livestock and equine endeavors.
With that in mind, a venue benefiting all possible constituents while continuing to bolster the success of the Tiger Wranglers Rodeo Program, is indeed "Doing Something That Matters."
For additional information, contact Johnnie Aycock at 205-652-9332 or 205-765-9332.