CHEYENNE – Shayla Howell isn’t kidding when she says she grew up as far northeast as you can go in Wyoming.
Her hometown of Colony is only accessible by taking U.S. Highway 212 from either Montana or South Dakota. Howell’s schooling options were limited to home school or making a 25-mile trip to Belle Fourche, South Dakota.
Howell found success on the track during her freshman year at the University of Wyoming, joining seniors Jerayah Davis, Ja’la Henderson and Jordan Edmonds on the 4x100-meter relay team that placed 23rd and earned honorable mention All-American honors at the NCAA outdoor championship.
However, Howell was often homesick. Being more than 5 hours from home kept her from going home often.
Homesickness hasn’t been a problem this fall. Being a year older helps, but Howell also brought a couple pieces of home back to Laramie.
“Since I’ve had my horses at school and I’ve been rodeoing, I haven’t been homesick once,” she said.
“They’re like family to me. I grew up around horses, so it’s like being at home when I’m with them.”
Howell will still represent UW as a sprinter and jumper this year, but she also has returned to the rodeo arena. She competed in breakaway roping and team roping this fall. Howell and her team roping partner, Cord Roberts of Laramie County Community College, placed third at the season-opening Chadron State College rodeo, and also qualified for the finals of LCCC’s Shawn Dubie Memorial Rodeo to close the fall portion of the rodeo season.
Howell qualified for the National High School Finals Rodeo as a barrel racer during her senior year. She ran barrels at the first few rodeos, but stopped after she realized she didn’t have time to juggle school, offseason track workouts and keep all her horses fit.
Howell’s recruiting visit to Laramie came the weekend her mother, Shanna Lee (Newland) Howell, was inducted into the UW athletics hall of fame as part of the 1991 women’s national championship rodeo team. Shanna Howell won the first go-round of goat tying, and finished ninth in the aggregate at the College National Finals Rodeo in Bozeman, Montana.
“I thought about doing both my freshman year,” Shayla said, “but I wanted to see what that first year of track was like, see how busy I was and decide whether it was worth trying to do both. I ended up really missing rodeo.”
Howell and her mother approached UW track coach Bryan Berryhill about the idea of rodeoing this summer. It didn’t take Howell long to sell Berryhill and jumps coach Quincy Howe on the idea.
“We realized how important rodeo is to her and how much she missed it,” Berryhill said. “We figured out it wouldn’t really interfere with the track season, or her preparation for track season.
“There’s always risk something could happen, but we know being a happy person goes a long way toward being a successful athlete.”
Berryhill is no stranger to two-sport athletes. Evanston product Erin Kirby (2010-15) earned All-Mountain West honors in both volleyball and track during her time with the Cowgirls.
“It’s tough to be good at one sport,” Berryhill said. “Trying to be good at two really adds a lot to your plate.
You have to be good at managing your time, school and all of the demands that come with doing two sports at the college level.
“(Howell) has those qualities, so we didn’t think her doing rodeo would detract from track.”
Coach Beau Clark must choose six men and four women to represent UW in the team standings at each rodeo. Some of those chosen might be among the best in the region in a single event, but most are strong in multiple events.
Howell wasn’t part of the Cowgirls’ points team at any of the fall rodeos, but she still played a valuable role in helping them jump out to a dominant lead in the Central Rocky Mountain Region standings.
“Even if you’re not on the points team, you can do well and push other people down in the standings,” Clark said. “That helps us by taking points away from those teams. We’ve had girls we didn’t have written down on our sheet win the all-around.
“Our women’s team is really good this year. It’s a whole team effort regardless of whether you’re scoring points for us or not.”
Like Howell, freshman Donny Proffit of Kemmerer didn’t have much trouble convincing Cowboys wrestling coach Mark Branch to let him pull double duty.
“He didn’t seem the least bit hesitant,” said Proffit, who was a four-time Wyoming state champion on the mat. “It helps that the seasons have very little, if any, overlap. It’s pretty easy to make it work.”
The final rodeo of the fall portion of the season ended the week UW started wrestling practice. The spring season starts within weeks of the NCAA wrestling tournament.
Proffit is third in the CRMR bareback riding standings after five rodeos. He is fifth in bull riding.
Proffit started his rodeo career as a bull rider, and started riding bareback as a junior. He took to the new event quickly, placing second in the Wyoming High School Rodeo Association as a junior and winning the state tile as a senior.
Proffit participated in preseason weightlifting and conditioning workouts with the wrestling team during the fall. He practiced his rodeo events once per week.
“My schedule doesn’t leave a lot of time for anything else,” Proffit said with a laugh.
The rodeo team has access to UW’s sports medicine staff. Proffit’s daily trips to study hall with the wrestling team made it easier for him to get regular treatment for his injuries.
Proffit’s events are physically demanding, and the risk of major injury is exponentially greater than other rodeo events. Branch – who is a rodeo fan – knows this, but contends that life comes with inherent risks.
“You take a chance every day you wake up and get out of bed,” Branch said. “The good thing for (Proffit) is we’re literally right here by the medical staff, so he can get treatment every day if he wants it or needs it.”
Proffit is used to the physical demands of his sports.
“Both of the sports I do are pretty hard on a guy,” Proffit said after placing second in bull riding and third in bareback at LCCC’s rodeo. “College wrestling is probably going to be one of the hardest things I ever do.”
Proffit expects to redshirt as a 141-pounder this season. He hopes to continue to rodeo beyond this year. Branch won’t force Proffit to choose.
“Right now, he is getting the best of both worlds,” Branch said. “He gets to do both and figure out if he can handle it, if it’s too much, or if he wants to focus on one more than the other.
“The important thing was getting him here on campus and getting him in our program. We think he brings a lot to the wrestling program, but it’s obvious he brings a lot to the rodeo program too.”
Clark recorded 118 career tackles and 14½ sacks as a defensive end at Montana State. He grew up roping, but his schedule only allowed him to occasionally rodeo during the summer.
Clark has the utmost respect for Howell and Proffit because he can only imagine how difficult it is to juggle two sports at the college level.
“It would have been really hard to do both as a football player,” said Clark, who took up steer wrestling after college and qualified for the 2012 National Finals Rodeo.
“I didn’t have the opportunity they do. It’s really neat to have two Wyoming kids who are great athletes in wrestling and track also be great rodeo athletes and be able to represent UW in both.”