- Associated Press - Monday, June 16, 2014

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - Tom Parker couldn’t stop smiling.

The longtime Casper College rodeo coach opened the door and entered an 80-by-200-foot dirt-filled arena. Banks of fluorescent lights attached to wooden support beams ran the length of the arena.

The lights remained off, though, as natural light poured in from numerous windows, unbroken and remarkably clean.

Earlier, Parker stood in the middle of what used to be a lambing shed and envisioned how it was going to be transformed into a pen where “calves and steers could be protected from the weather.”

Parker pointed to another outlying building and described how it could be used to house bulls and other livestock. He made mention of the water pumps, which seemingly rose out of the ground every 20 yards, and the abundant electrical outlets in all the enclosed buildings.

Through it all, Parker smiled, and for good reason.

Parker and Casper College athletic director Bill Landen were giving an impromptu tour of the college’s latest purchase, a 167.5-acre ranch located about seven miles west of town.

Dubbed the Ranch Campus, the land and the red-and-white buildings are expected to enhance Casper College’s award-winning agriculture program by providing students with more hands-on learning experiences.

“We think this really has a chance to put Casper College on the map as far as our ag program is concerned,” Landen said. “I think once we get everything done out here that we envision, we can be one of the top five ag programs in the country.”

“At least,” Parker added. “Maybe one of the top two or three.”

The real reason for Parker’s excitement, however, is the benefits the property presents for his rodeo team. The Thunderbirds men’s team qualified for the College National Finals Rodeo, which begins Sunday, for the third time in the past four years.

For years, the Casper College rodeo teams have practiced at The Arena at the Central Wyoming Fairgrounds. They also hold their annual Ropin’ and Riggin’ Days Rodeo there every spring.

While Parker is appreciative of the use of the facility, he’s ready for a move to greener pastures.

“I’m not ever going to take anything away from the people on the fair board because they’ve been absolutely fantastic to us ever since I’ve been here,” Parker said. “At the same time, we can’t always get in there when we need to practice.

“Now, once we get an arena built on the property, we’ll be in a situation that we can practice pretty much anytime that we want to. We don’t have to be on somebody else’s schedule. That allows us to take a little more time and do some personal coaching. Now we can slow things down and work with each individual, no matter how much time it takes.”

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