South Dakota Cowgirl Becomes K-Stater To Lead ‘Purple Team’ At ‘Best-Ever’ Rodeo

Standing-room-only made for rabid enthusiasm at what alumni and veteran-attendees contended was “the best ever K-State Rodeo.”

While more than 3,500 spectators crowded into bleacher seats and all around the inside of Manhattan’s Weber Arena for Saturday night’s performance, KSU Rodeo Team Coach Doug Muller said Sunday’s crowd was near that number.

A native of South Dakota, Cally Thomas, as a member of the K-State Rodeo Team, placed first in the short-go, second in the long-go and was first in the average of the barrel racing event during the recent Kansas State University Rodeo at Manhattan. (Photo by
A native of South Dakota, Cally Thomas, as a member of the K-State Rodeo Team, placed first in the short-go, second in the long-go and was first in the average of the barrel racing event during the recent Kansas State University Rodeo at Manhattan. (Photo by

“We had great attendance each of the four performances, and people of all ages were here,” Muller pointed out. “There was a large contingency of students. The kids really loved the atmosphere this year.”

It was not a one-man-show by any means, to put all of the complicated logistics together, and proof of that came when more than 50 Kansas State Rodeo Club members filled the tanbark-arena-floor from east to west during opening ceremony introductions at each performance.

“We couldn’t have had such a successful rodeo, if everybody didn’t step up to the plate and do their part,” Muller credited.

When the dust settled, Fort Scott Community College took home top men’s team honors, solidifying their rankings as the top team in the Central Plains Region standings.

In second for the men was Coffeyville Community College, ranked 12th for the year, while Pratt Community College was eighth, and Kansas State University placed 10th at Manhattan .

In the women’s team category, the winner was Southwestern Oklahoma State University, also the top team in the region.

Kansas’ women’s team rankings were Colby, third; Garden City, fourth; K-State, fifth, and Fort Scott, seventh.

All-around cowboy title went to Shane Hand, Southwest Oklahoma State University, who placed second in saddle bronc riding, and seventh in bareback riding.

The house arose in the loudest applause of the Sunday afternoon short-go-round when Cally Thomas, representing the “home-town purple team,” swerved her big Quarter Horse around the cloverleaf pattern in 12.18 seconds, the fastest barrel racing time.

Coupled with her 12.51-seconds second-place run Saturday night, Thomas was the barrel racing average winner, collecting a check for $1,032, the second largest of the rodeo.“It wasn’t just a coincidence,” emphasized Coach Muller, in evaluating that speedy-maneuver. “Cally is one of the top barrel racers in the region and the nation.”

Only larger payout went to Kelsie Chase, Southwestern Oklahoma State, who placed first in both go-rounds of breakaway roping to have a total time of 5.6 seconds, worth $1,057. Chase tied Emily Miller, Garden City Community College, for the all-around award in the women’s division.

K-State’s other spotlight performer was JD Holland, who as the heeler teamed with Brett Christenson, Northwestern Oklahoma State, to be second in the long-go, third in the short-go and third in the team roping average in 14.5 seconds, worth $521, to each cowboy.

Winning is certainly nothing new for Cally Thomas, but performing with the purple team of Kansas State University is an addition to the talented cowgirl’s resume.

Hailing from the Thomas Ranch at Harrold, South Dakota, Thomas has a lifelong career of livestock successes exhibiting champion Angus, Red Angus, and Charolais cattle.

Those recognitions are matched by performance in the rodeo arena. Thomas has claimed almost every title there is in South Dakota barrel racing, taking state high school awards en route to the National High School Rodeo Finals.

As a sophomore member of the South Dakota State University Rodeo Team, Thomas was second in the Great Plains region, in her second qualification for the College National Finals Rodeo.

Thomas was also second in the 2011 final standings of the South Dakota Rodeo Association.

So why did a South  Dakota cowgirl come to Kansas? “I wanted to be on the livestock judging team,” she rationalized.

And, Thomas is doing just that as a junior in animal science successfully competing for the Kansas State University Livestock Judging Team.

Like many rodeo athletes, Thomas balances her time between studying,  judging workouts, and training her barrel horses, Bugeta and Flash.

Obviously, it has paid off with her earnings at the K-State Rodeo, where she moved into fifth place in the Central Plains Region standings, just ahead of sixth-place teammate Blair Askew, K-State barrel racer from Goddard, who was unable to collect a check at her home-college rodeo.

But, because Thomas is so busy with her horses and livestock judging training, she expressed appreciation to members of the Kansas State University Rodeo Club “for all of their hard work and cooperation in making the rodeo such a success. Everybody is so eager to help in every way they can.”

What does the future look like for the South Dakota cowgirl who is helping make Kansas State University’s purple brighter?

“I hope to make the National College Finals Rodeo for the next two years, continue to compete successfully on the judging team, graduate from K-State and go back to South Dakota and be a partner in operation of the Thomas Ranch,”  Thomas said.