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Bull riding champ can thank UTM alumnus

Bull riding champ can thank UTM alumnus
Bull riding champ can thank UTM alumnus | National Champ, UT Martin, Jeff Askey, bull riding, 42nd Annual Spring College Rodeo, College National Finals Rodeo, CNFR, John Luthi, UTM, Casper Wyoming

National Champ — UT Martin cowboy Jeff Askey, here riding a bull during the 42nd Annual Spring College Rodeo in April, used an 88.5 ride in the championship short round to win the national championship of the College National Finals Rodeo.
MARTIN, Tenn. – Somewhere en route to winning the national championship in bull riding at the College National Finals Rodeo in Casper, Wyo., June 19, senior Jeff Askey probably called UT Martin alumnus Dave Waltz and said thank you.
Waltz came to The University of Tennessee at Martin to ride bulls in 1978-79. He bought his National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA) membership card and learned with each ride.
Remembering the old adage “You always have to get off,” Waltz would put his hand in the middle of the bull’s back, on top of the worn pad for protection. He would have the rope pulled tight. Without thinking he would nod his head for the two men working the chute, his free hand in the air and the other with a death grip on the bull. All he needs for a good ride is eight seconds.
“If you have to think about it, you’re going to get thrown off,” said David Vowell, a former UT Martin bull rider.
While at a professional rodeo in Virginia, Waltz met UT Martin cowboys Tony Coleman and Byron Woodard. The two convinced Waltz to leave Pennsylvania and enroll at UT Martin so he could rodeo. Coleman went on to win back-to-back regional bareback championships and a national all-around title. He became the team’s first coach. Woodard came to UT Martin from the Army where he had gained plenty of rodeo experience.
“Unfortunately I was not a good student,” Waltz said. After almost two years at UT Martin, Waltz decided to return to the professional circuit. He won four American Professional Rodeo Association bull riding championships (1981, ’83, ’84 and ’86), and in 1986 he won the all-around cowboy title. Waltz retired from competing in professional rodeos after 15 years, but he is still very much involved in the sport – he taught his son Tyler and Jeff Askey how to ride bulls. Tyler Waltz and Askey grew up in 4-H showing horses. Tyler even competed in youth rodeos. It was the younger Waltz who lured Askey to riding rough stock, and it was Dave Waltz who taught him how to ride.
“Jeff has a lot of natural ability,” Dave Waltz said. “He has good balance and that’s what makes him so good.”
Askey said he was 13 when he rode his first bull, Van Halen 222, in a Keystone Youth Rodeo. He also rides bareback horses. The Pennsylvania native took advantage of what Dave Waltz taught him and went to Northeast Oklahoma A&M Junior College. Askey’s technique, his success and a former cowboy — Lee Jay Larmon, from Fort Scott (Kan.) Community College — is how UT Martin head rodeo coach John Luthi found out about Askey.
For the past two seasons, Askey, who calls Beech Creek, Pa. home, has been riding bulls and bareback at UT Martin. As a junior he won the first round at the College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR) with an 83-point ride and was second in the second round with an 82-point ride. He finished fifth in the nation and helped the UT Martin team finish ninth in the country.
“I didn’t make a good showing throughout the year,” Askey said. “When I got to the CNFR, I decided to have fun.
“Bull riding is mostly mental,” he said. “You can go out and beat yourself up worrying about the standings instead of going out and doing what you are supposed to do.”
Askey wants to ride professionally after graduation, but for now he mixes his day with classes, rodeo and studying. “I am usually in class from about 8 in the morning until about 2:30 then I go straight to practice until 9 o’clock. When I get home I eat something, do a little studying and go to bed. I wake up the next morning and start all over.”
Askey is an animal science major and his class load includes anatomy, physiology and microbiology. He’s been more consistent in the classroom than he has in the rodeo arena and the main reason is because he knows how to study and manage his time.
“I have always had good grades,” Askey said. “I learned early on that I have more opportunities if I have good grades.”
Last June, in addition to finishing fifth in the nation in bull riding at the CNFR, Askey was the recipient of a $1,800 scholarship for the highest grade point average — a 3.92 GPA — of all the men competing at the CNFR from a four-year university.
Achieving goals also is a priority for the 22-year-old. “I would like to win the region in bull riding and win the college finals,” he said.
Goals accomplished. Askey won the Ozark Region bull riding title and used an 86.5-point ride in the first go at the CNFR to advance to the championship short round. In the short round, Askey went eight seconds on China Grove for 88.5 points and the national championship.
Determined and focused, Askey had already won $30,000 in prize money nine months into last season. A bulk of the earnings came from the Professional Bull Riding (PBR) circuit. “It’s tough to compete in the PBR when you’re in school,” he said. That doesn’t mean Askey doesn’t compete professionally during the school year. The first week of the college season, he competed at the Missouri Valley College (MVC) Rodeo in Marshall. After his Thursday night ride he worked the bull riding event at Altamont, Ill., in a pro rodeo. He went back to Marshall for the finals of the college rodeo on Saturday and then drove all night to compete in a pro rodeo at Farmington, Minn. His investment for the three rodeos was about $250 for food, fuel and motel rooms. He also spent money on entry fees. His return for the three rodeos was about $3,000.
He started the college rodeo season off by winning the bull riding average at the MVC rodeo.
It’s no wonder people such as Dave Waltz and David Vowell say, “Kids today have it made. They have so many ways to learn – videos, schools, junior rodeos. Back then, all we could do is learn the basics, maybe watch a rodeo on television or if we were fortunate go to a rodeo school.”
Askey said Waltz and Vowell are on target. “We have a lot more resources than they had back then … bucking machines and practice bulls.”
As Askey goes through his chute procedures he tries to relax. “It’s all muscle memory. I will use my knees and my legs,” he said. “I try not to worry about the other riders. I worry about the bull and myself.”

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