Faculty members at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School say rodeo is sufficiently acknowledged, culminating in rewarding its participants with letters.

Students and community members directly involved with rodeo think it deserves more respect.

“We as a school recognize it, though it’s sponsored through community support at outside functions,” Principal Suzanne Nicastro says, adding that athletic director Ken Fredrickson helps students meet the rodeo criteria, which include maintaining a 2.0 grade point average.

Says Fredrickson: “We do give letters to kids who meet those standards.”

The California Interscholastic Federation, the state’s governing body of high school athletics, doesn’t list rodeo as a sport.

That’s disconcerting to John Branquinho of Los Alamos, who says Santa Ynez High should acknowledge rodeo as a conventional sport such as baseball or basketball. He said students who participate in rodeo hold up their end of the bargain, so to speak, by procuring $250 for a full Friends of Rodeo sponsorship and earning at least a C average in the classroom.


“The district budget should have nothing to do with it since the kids are already supported financially outside the school,” Branquinho said.”

Although the school presents “letters” to those students involved in rodeo, he said, there should be more recognition. What’s more, he contends, rodeo is beneficial because everybody gets to participate in the competition.

“When you play other sports, you have five starters or nine starters playing a certain amount,  while some kids on the sidelines don’t get to compete at all,” said Branquino, whose sons lettered in rodeo at Santa Ynez years ago. (They remain heavily active: Luke is the reigning world champion steer wrestler, while Tony serves as rodeo coach for Cal Poly, and Casey still competes in events.)

“I’ve gone to several games, watch the first-stringers stay in, while other kids never get into the games at all,” he said. “It’s not like that with rodeo.”


In a recent letter to the Valley Journal, student Meghan Rowe of Solvang expressed her disappointment in the school’s lack of support of rodeo members.

Rowe, who qualified for the California High School Rodeo Association last year, writes in part: “Unfortunately, our school district does not recognize rodeo as a sport like football, and does not allocate money to cover the costs of our activity … Being involved in (rodeo) teaches us responsibility as we need to care for our horses, and we must maintain a 2.0 grade point average to participate.”

Janell Bilkey, District 7 Rodeo membership secretary who handles the paperwork for high school students (they must be official members to participate in rodeo), understands both the school’s and participants’ viewpoints.

Although it can be difficult for students to procure funding through sponsors, she says, the situation is getting better. And all the money brought in (including $2,500 for major event sponsors) eventually goes back to the kids involved.


“I do think the school needs to acknowledge rodeo more, but it’s also more of an ‘outside’ district activity,” Bilkey adds, noting District 7 Rodeo encompasses nine districts.

In any case, Branquinho can’t fathom why Santa Ynez High School itself isn’t more involved.

“It’s terrible,” he says.

From the school’s standpoint, the principal says there’s more than meets the eye.

“It’s my understanding nobody at the school was willing to be an advisor or coach for rodeo,” Nicastro said. “No parent or other community member has stepped forward and talked with me. If somebody wants to make an appointment to discuss it, or has any suggestions, I’m open.”