School buses flanked the horse trailers Friday at Boone County Fairgrounds.
Roughly 500 children from area schools and day cares showed up for the free event which showcased the cowboys and girls of the Missouri High School Rodeo state finals. Featured events were calf and goat roping, pole bending, team roping and barrel racing.
Bondi Wood, MHSR state secretary, said the event allows children, who wouldn’t get the chance otherwise, to experience the rodeo.
“The reason we do it, is that there’s not a lot of opportunity for some kids to see it,” Wood said. “Especially for kids whose parents can’t bring them in the evenings, it’s a great field trip.”
It’s also important for children to learn about the rodeo lifestyle when they are young, Wood said, because it teaches them to be better people.
“Rodeo teaches life lessons. They learn that life’s not always fair, that you have to be responsible,” Wood said. “But rodeo is really a celebration of western heritage.”
Traveling from throughout mid-Missouri, the children watched the competition, many for the first time, Wood said.
Wood said the children’s enthusiasm spills over into a form of adoration.
“Last year we had 1,000 preschool kids and they adored it, loved it,” Wood said. “They wanted the cowboys’ autographs.”
The cowboys and girls were willing to oblige, Catherine Presson, 2006 Missouri rodeo queen, said.
“They think we’re like superheroes and rock stars. It’s really neat, one of the best feelings you can have,” Presson said. “We’re their role models, so telling them no would be letting them down.”
Coy Grayson, a bullrider from Rolla, agreed that having kids look up to him is really rewarding, even beyond mere emotions.
“It’s awesome. It makes me feel like a hero,” he laughed. “Usually I can’t pay to give my autograph away, but one kid over there was even giving us free food.”
Austin Martin, a bullrider from Ashland, said watching children get excited is one reason he rides.
“Having fans, it makes me a hero, that’s why we do what we do,” Martin said.
“It was amazing. Hearing the kids yell, whoop and holler. We’re used to only having our parents watch us and there is only so much yelling they can do before they lose their voices,” she said. “Little kids love to scream, whoop and holler for you no matter what you do.”