UMW News BureauThe University of Montana Western’s annual Community Rodeo Banquet returns on Friday, March 26 in the Keltz Arena of the Montana Western campus. The University of Montana Western’s annual Community Rodeo Banquet returns on Friday, March 26 in the Keltz Arena of the Montana Western campus. Now in its 42nd year, the rodeo banquet is a major campus event and a critical fundraising source for the rodeo program. Rodeo coach Iola Else — who has not missed a banquet since the first event in 1968 — said the banquet provides the majority of funding for rodeo students and is a key component in keeping the rodeo team competitive. “Montana Western Rodeo has developed a reputation for outstanding rodeo athletes,” Else said. “The Community Rodeo Banquet funds Montana Western rodeo and has helped the program grow and continue to be a nationally ranked program. Last year the men’s team had a national champion steer wrestler, Wyatt Smith, and finished sixth in the nation.” One hundred percent of the proceeds from the banquet go to rodeo student-athletes for scholarships, travel expenses and helping the team get to the College National Finals. The Montana Western Foundation assists with the rodeo banquet and all university fundraising. Foundation director Amberly Pahut said the rodeo program and the banquet are integral parts of Montana Western. “The Montana Western Community Rodeo Banquet is a very special event,” Pahut said. “The banquet’s outcome has a direct impact on the students associated with Montana Western rodeo. The event’s proceeds are critical to our rodeo program’s success.” The 2010 banquet will also mark the return of a special guest: Don Walters, who founded the rodeo banquet, will make his first return to the banquet since he left as head coach and advisor in 1989. Confronted with a lack of funds for the rodeo program, Walters organized the first banquet at the Dillon Elk’s Lodge in 1968. Team members and their parents brought potluck dishes and auction items to raise money. Tickets sold for $3 to $5. “We’d sweat because nobody would be there until the last minute,” Walters said of the first banquets. “But eventually people would show up later and the turnout would be great.” Those first few small potlucks have turned into a sell-out event with up to 700 people in attendance. Walters said the competitiveness of the Montana Western rodeo team is a reflection of the success of the banquet and head coach Iola “Olie” Else, who he once coached. “I’m so proud of Olie,” Walters said. “Our small school is giving Montana State University a run for its money.” Raising money to keep the team competitive will once again be the theme of the banquet. This year’s event will include a silent auction, live auction and live music by The Slip. No-host cocktails begin at 5:30 p.m. and a prime rib dinner at 6 p.m. Pahut said there is a limited supply of tickets left and encouraged the community to buy tickets and reserve tables soon. For ticket information or to make an auction donation, contact Amberly Pahut at (406) 683-7305.