It isn’t often that a community college competes and wins against teams at the university level, but the Reedley College Mule Packing Team is the exception. The Tigers brought home the team packing championship at the annual Mule Days Celebration in Bishop, winning the hardware over Cal Poly, Fresno State, UC Davis and Modesto Junior College. There was also a combined team made up of students from Reedley College, Fresno State and Cal Poly. The Bulldogs and Mustangs also had two teams apiece, but not even that could stop the Tigers from bringing home the coveted buckle trophies. “What really paid off for our team is that they were very prepared,” said first year Head Coach Loni Langdon. “All of the effort they put in really helped refine their skills.”
Preparation paid off in the form of how dominant the team was. The Tigers were a minute faster than the other teams. “When we looked back after we crossed the finish line (after the first run), I couldn’t believe how far ahead we were,” said team member Cole Hansen.
It also helps to have cooperative animals as teammates. “Having the right stock for a competition like this is critical,” said Langdon. “We have the best mules in the state for this. They’re seasoned, calm under pressure and predictable. Their age and wisdom are huge assets.” Maybe mules aren’t so stubborn, after all.
“I was so excited to be sporting the same tiger orange shirt worn by this year's World Champion Collegiate Packer team,” said teammate Laurel Machoian. “I could feel my school pride growing every time I saw the orange cross that dusty finish line first. There's no other program I'd rather have represented than our Reedley College team. I look forward to carrying on the packer and mulemanship traditions at Reedley.”
Reedley College also won three individual competitions in Bishop: Harley McCorkle (Diamond Hitch), Cole Hansen (Box Hitch) and Jessie Miles (Packing). But the mules aren’t used just for competitions; at Reedley College, they’re helping develop students for job opportunities on some of the most beautiful lands on earth. “Packers and livestock who can help keep our trails open for recreation to people who visit from around the world is an essential service. It’s a dying art,” said Langdon, who also teaches the Mule Packing class on campus. “It makes what we’re doing at Reedley College extremely important, and it’s amazing to have such strong support from President (Jerry) Buckley to continue this work. Building a bridge between a community college and the National Forest Service is so unique.”
When the Tigers return to Bishop next year to defend their title, they’ll bring home lasting memories, regardless of the outcome. “It’s not necessarily about the winning, but about experiencing an event of this magnitude and the impact it could make on our students,” Langdon said. “You never know where this could take them. It’s phenomenal.”