Character and Perseverance: Jacey Hupp's journey to being Wyoming's women's rodeo coach
Jacey Hupp has officially been named the new women’s rodeo coach at the University of Wyoming. To put this into perspective, college rodeo to Wyoming is equivalent to what college football is to the University of Alabama. It’s a VERY big deal.
Hupp grew up in Huron, began participating in rodeo at a young age, and then went on to compete in rodeo for South Dakota State University. But as far as having an official ‘coaching job,’ this is her first.
“[Wyoming] reached out to me Sunday after the stock show, so clear back in February, and then I decided to go on a visit in March,” explained Jacey Hupp. “They had some coach changes, and then my family was involved in a pretty big accident, so I just kind of wrote it all off and never thought about it really again. And then I guess probably about a week-and-a-half ago, the new coach called me and asked if I was still interested. So as of last Wednesday, I accepted the job.”
This summer has been tough for the Hupp Family. In May, Jacey’s parents William and LaDonna, and her niece Harper, lost their lives in a house explosion in Stanley County.
“I knew that my parents were excited and supportive, and really just encouraging me to take this opportunity [at Wyoming], so it means everything to me to know exactly how they felt about it,” Hupp told. “And then my family, friends, neighbors, everybody in my community that I was raised in, in Huron, are really stepping up and taking new roles so that I'm able to leave the ranch, essentially.”
There have been various fundraisers this summer for the Hupp Family. At the state high school rodeo finals, there was a goat tying fundraiser for three of South Dakota’s rodeo families, the Hupp’s being one.
“All of the fundraisers have been just so special. And we've had hat patches and a clothing line with ‘Shop the West,’ and seeing our hat patches on hats, like last weekend at the 4-H finals,” told Hupp. “You don't need to say a word, and we see it and it says it all. So it's really special.”
Hupp (Jacey) is the youngest of four siblings, all of whom were also involved in rodeo. The family was involved in other sports as well.
“Every aspect of rodeo is my passion,” Hupp said. “Actually, I had some volleyball scholarships in high school too, and I thought pretty heavy on them, but my dad said, "You can go wherever you want, Jace, but tuition will be paid at Brookings." So I went to Brookings, and I got a rodeo with my sister Tarin. She was a senior when I was a freshman, and I wouldn't trade that experience for the world.
As a senior in high school, Hupp was a state champion in Goat Tying. She mentioned going to nationals as a highlight in her rodeo journey.
“It was just being around the people. I met people from Martin to Spearfish to Hartford, and it just still amazes me to this day that we talk about our nationals trip, we talk about the stuff we did, and I'm still close with not only the kids that were my age, but also their parents, and how that's just lasted,” told Hupp. “I've been out of school since 2015 and I still have those memories and those relationships.”
Hupp then went on to have a successful rodeo career with the Jackrabbits at SDSU. She was a five-time College National Finals Rodeo qualifier, but during her junior year she sustained an injury that put some serious strain on her career. During a team roping run in Nebraska, Hupp had her head rope stretch and whip back at her, hitting her directly in the right eye.
It took some time to realize the next step, but there was no doubt from the get-go that it was severe.
“I ended up losing pretty much all my vision out of that eye, and I had to get an artificial iris and pretty much get it about 80% replaced. So it's kind of just decoration right now,” exclaimed Hupp. “The hardest part was really just getting surgery scheduled. I had to wait almost a year for surgery, because I had to get it lined up with two specialists and they had to diagnose everything. The artificial iris came from Germany, and it was hand painted, so it was a heck of a customs process as well to get all that shipped in.”
When you think of sports injuries, something involving the eye seems rare. And Hupp agrees, she was sort of in uncharted territory with this injury.
“You tear an ACL and you can think of 10 people off the top of your head that have done it, but there's not a lot of people that know of a one-eyed goat tyer, so I definitely felt like I was on an island and everybody was trying to tell me they knew how I felt. And I was like, "I don't think you do here." But, yeah, I ended up losing pretty much all my vision out of that eye, so it's kind of just decoration right now,” said Hupp.
Despite being out of action for almost a year, Hupp was determined to get back up on her horse again.
“I remember my first rodeo back from injury in White River, it was amateur rodeo, South Dakota Rodeo Association, and it was my first goat run, and I had just had no idea what to expect,” Hupp chuckled. “I just wanted to make a nice, easy controlled run, probably wouldn't have placed. And then my mare just took off, and she was doing it like we always did it, and I just tried to keep up and we ended up having a good run, so it's kind of been like that since.”
With a medical redshirt and then an extra year of eligibility with COVID, Hupp had a lengthier college career than most, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world.
“Actually, looking back, as much as I didn't want to do that final year, that final victory lap, I'm so glad I did because I was able to go with my parents to every single rodeo and we left from the house and practiced together every night, and it was just a really, really special year,” Hupp told.
Hupp and her sister Tarin are still close to this day as well. For the past five years, in fact, they’ve been doing goat tying clinics together.
“We love them,” she said. “They just set our souls on fire. And then my parents would usually ask for an update, they'd send us a text, or when I'd get home they'd ask me how it went. And I'd always just say, "Well, in a perfect world, this is all I would do, but it's not going to pay the bills." Now here we are, [college coaching] will pay the bills.”
As Jacey Hupp prepares for the next journey of her life as a collegiate coach, it’s important for her to forever remember her roots at the family ranch near Huron.
“My parents moved to the ranch, I think it was about '95, '96, and one of the first things they put up was the arena. We have had so many kids, neighbors from near and far come to our place and practice and rope. And my parents were always big on having calves and goats and horses galore for people to utilize and take advantage of, and come over and just practice and learn. Then that eventually developed into my sister and I going outside of our comfort zone and hosting clinics at other people's houses, and it just kept evolving,” explained Hupp. “Now, here I am. I know my name is at the top of it, but really this has been a family deal from my older siblings teaching me the things that they learned, to my parents always having a place and an opportunity for us to practice. They really set me up for this.”
For Hupp, she knows that being a rodeo coach at the University of Wyoming is a big deal, and she feels blessed that the school believes in her. As a first time ‘official’ coach, she doesn’t have all the answers, but Hupp said Wyoming will be getting her best.
“One thing I was really humbled by, and really appreciated, is they weren't necessarily looking at my track record for what I completed as far as rodeo, but I think they were more so searching for the person and the character. And I hope what they were looking for in me and searching for in me is someone with a lot of passion, someone who's truly there for the kids and wants to mold them and impact them in areas beyond rodeo,” exclaimed Hupp. “I really want to be easy to approach. I want my kids to trust me. I want them to be able to come to me whether they made a mistake or they did something good, I want them to be able to come to me for things. I want them to trust me, and I want them to know that I care about them and I care about their horses.”