Amid the organized chaos Saturday night, Cal Poly rodeo coach Ben Londo allowed himself a brief moment to look around Alex G. Spanos Stadium and soak in a few moments that were years in the making.
The fourth-year head coach was widely considered the main catalyst in successfully transitioning the 77th annual Poly Royal Rodeo from the Cal Poly rodeo grounds to the 11,000-seat football stadium.
Although there were numerous hurdles to clear along the way — including a rainout that resulted in moving Friday night’s competition from the stadium to the rodeo grounds — Londo never wavered.
The end result was a raucous crowd of more than 10,000 spectators providing support for one of the oldest and most respected college rodeo programs in the country.
“It happened pretty fast, thinking so much about logistics and all the hard work we’ve done and staying ahead of each step,” said Londo, a former two-time all-around national champion during his time at Cal Poly in the early 2000s. “The next thing I know, I look up and there wasn’t hardly an empty seat in the house. The fans were just going nuts. Brought it all to a point for me.”
It was the latest achievement in a long line of rodeo success for Cal Poly, a program that has won six team national championships and 44 individual national titles.
Fans were able to see 10 events on the chilly Saturday night, including bareback riding, steer wrestling, tie down roping, breakaway, saddle bronc, steer riding, team roping, calf undressing, barrel racing and bull riding.
Cal Poly’s Katie Rice was crowned the all-around champion in the women’s competition, and Cash Robinson of West Hills College earned all-around honors on the men’s side. Cuesta College standout Will Centoni also turned heads with a sharp performance in the saddle bronc riding.
The two local programs couldn’t have asked for a better showing from the San Luis Obispo community, and both should carry some momentum into the rest of the season. The West Coast Regional title is still up for grabs, and every contestant has an eye on the College National Finals in Casper, Wyoming, in June.
“It’s way above what I thought it would be,” said Cal Poly senior Colton Farquer, who won the tie down roping competition. “I think (Friday) night a lot of people were just kind of bummed that it was rained out. But, it’s still amazing to have this one great performance that everyone’s going to end the weekend on an extreme high.”
It was a particularly special night for Farquer, who has said he plans to pursue a career in professional rodeo after graduating with a degree in bioresource and agricultural engineering this spring. His younger brother and teammate, Caden, also performed well in front of friends and family from Oakdale, doing so on their mother’s birthday.
Farquer also understood the significance of what Saturday’s rodeo could mean for the program moving forward.
“It’s great for (incoming) freshmen, for people who see the program who want to come to Cal Poly, for people here to help build the legacy,” Farquer said. “It’s just another thing that puts Cal Poly on the map.”
That sentiment certainly wasn’t lost on Londo, either.
As difficult as it was to cancel and relocate Friday’s performance, Londo felt the marquee event more than made up for it.
“This is probably the biggest rodeo any of these students have ever been to in the their life and may ever go to,” Londo said. “There’s a lot of pro rodeos that didn’t rival the energy that the fans and the action and the total entertainment value of this rodeo tonight.”
So, can a return trip to Spanos Stadium be expected next spring?
“I don’t see why we wouldn’t,” Londo said.