A Toast to Texas
The rodeo and concerts make up just a fraction of what there is to see and do. Rodeo Uncorked! events include an enormously popular wine competition and auction.
A huge carnival covers much of the rambling park, while horse shows occupy the 5,800-seat arena. The mammoth Reliant Center, which sits adjacent to the stadium, stretches more than a quarter of a mile and contains 1.3 million square feet of exhibition space. During the rodeo, it's part barn, part shopping mall.
In one corner, kids can see chicks hatch and calves born, as well as live beehives and milking demonstrations. There's a Rodeo University for aspiring cowboys and cowgirls. Black Heritage Day and Go Tejano Day have been added to pay tribute to both cultures.
Back in the show barns, 4-H and FFA members coddle their prize cattle, pigs, and chickens. Taking the animals into the ring is serious business, but the occasional hoot and holler signals that a winner has been chosen. During the International Brahman show, 12-year-old Haley Herzog of Robinson, Texas, and her heifer, Raven, take grand champion honors.
"I'm always excited when I show, but this is one of the best shows around," a glowing Haley reports. "It means a lot to win here. I worked hard, and when you work that hard you want it to pay off."
Eyes on the Future
Still, it is Houston's commitment to education that may ultimately yield the greatest dividends. A nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo awards millions of dollars in scholarships to young Texans each year. Officials expect the amount to top $16 million in 2008. Many youths wouldn't have gone to college without this assistance.
The chairman of the board Paul Somerville experienced the power of the scholarship program in his own life recently. As his wife, Kathy, lay dying at MD Anderson Cancer Center, a young doctor walked in and introduced himself. "Mr. Somerville, you don't remember me," the oncologist began, "but 15 years ago, you and your wife took me to dinner and gave me a rodeo scholarship. Now, I'm going to take care of you."
"People have asked me over the years why somebody pays half a million dollars for the top steer or $150,000 for the champion chicken," Paul muses. "Now I know why."