State high school rodeo a family gathering for the Eitels

Friday, June 17, 2011 | 9:32 p.m. CDT; updated 1:55 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 19, 2011

COLUMBIA — A red rectangle grill sits outside the Eitels' trailer at the Boone County Fairgrounds.

It looks like the family could be tailgating outside of MU's Memorial Stadium before a football game with long tables holding an assortment of food, including an ample supply of potato salad and snickerdoodle cookies.

But this is the Missouri High School State Rodeo Finals, and the aroma of hamburgers mixes with the odor of horses and livestock. The Eitels served breakfast, lunch and dinner hot off the grill Friday, the second day of the event.

Deanna Eitel takes charge of grilling for her family and whoever else may want to join the group.

"Of course you always bring more food," she said. "You never know who will join."

Her son, Blake Eitel, is too young to compete in the rodeo, and it took a while for him to grow accustomed to the new setting. Once, he inquired about his mom's rodeo cooking, asking his father: "Mom's cooking pancakes on the grill?" Now, he is used to meals from the grill at the rodeo.

The Eitel family raises cattle and has more than 100, so there is plenty of hamburgers for relatives from Centralia, who came to eat before the rodeo.

The Eitels traveled from Milan to watch Kelsey Eitel, a junior a Milan High School, compete in the pole bending and barrel racing events. Although Kelsey Eitel likes to compete, how she finishes isn't so important to the family, and on Friday no one had checked yet how she did the day before.

Her father Paul Eitel, competed in high school rodeo in 1976 and 1977 and said he is proud of how much her daughter takes care of herself. His daughter purchased her horse, Pal, by herself.

"She has her money invested in it," Paul Eitel said. "She knows she needs to take care of it."

Kelsey Eitel won't let anyone else feed her horse. When she went to prom, she left strict instructions for her family on how to feed her horse even though the family owns and cares for about 20 other horses.

Kelsey Eitel started competing in rodeo when she was a sophomore in high school but has been showing horses almost her entire life. She pays all of her entry fees which can come to $300 for a weekend, earning the money by raising and selling goats and some cattle. That means her mornings usually start at 5 a.m. to give her enough time to feed and care for her animals before school starts.

Kelsey Eitel's parents paid for gas and supplied the food for the state finals weekend, but the livestock market in Green City where she sells some of her cattle has sponsored her for her junior year of high school rodeo.

While her family sits by the grill enjoying burgers, Kelsey Eitel prepares her horse for the night's events. At the end of the evening, she will join her family in the trailer where she prefers to sleep on the floor. Now, though, she stops to quench her thirst before going back to work.

She grabs a cup, makes sure it's clean, pushes open the spout of the jug and fills her cup.

"Did you make this?" she asks her mother after taking a sip.

Her mom looks a little puzzled.

"That's water," Deanna Eitel says.

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