COLUMBIA — Dennis Morris, one of the workers helping set up the arena at the Boone County Fairgrounds for the Missouri High School Rodeo this week has been working for a couple days.
“It’s the hardest part of the rodeo,” he said.
Cowgirls and cowboys competing in the Missouri High School Rodeo State Finals don’t arrive until Thursday, but a group of select people have been working all week to see that everything runs smoothly when the first rider saddles up.
George Harris, manager of the Boone County Fairgrounds, and a group of four or five others spent three full days preparing for the upcoming show.
Their work mainly involves setting up the gates, chutes and stalls, cleaning the facility and making sure the dirt is loose, but not dusty. Harris said that they started Monday morning and have put in 8-10 hours per day.
Erma and Jack Kelly, owners of New Image Style, didn’t arrive as early as Harris, but have been just as busy. They arrive a day before the competition starts and, from start to finish, spend about 2 ½ hours setting up their shop that sells handbags and jewelry at the rodeo.
“You have to stay on top of what’s popular for them. Each year it’s something different,” Erma Kelly said.
Regardless of the specific job, the people behind the scenes come for the action itself.
“I like the bull riding. I like it all,” Harris said.
The Missouri High School Rodeo State Finals runs Thursday through Sunday at the Boone County Fairgrounds. The competition begins at 6 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and the awards ceremony is held at 6 p.m. Sunday.
Girls compete in four events and boys compete in five events, excluding the team roping event, where both girls and boys can compete. Female competitors tackle pole bending, barrels, breakaway roping and goat tying while males try their hand at bull riding, bareback riding, saddle bronc, tiedown calf roping and steer wrestling.
The event kicks off each night with bareback riding, followed by saddle bronc, breakaway roping, calf roping, goat tying, steer wrestling, pole bending, team roping, barrels, and bull riding. Each event is held every night, with the top 12 in each event qualifying for the final run Saturday night.
There are “a lot of kids getting started in rodeo as well as life,” Erma Kelly said. “Every time you come, you expect to see someone new. Each year there is something different, a young adult accomplishes something that they couldn’t a year ago.”