For little cowboys and cowgirls, rodeo pageant a rite of passage
This year won’t be Lanette Womack’s first rodeo. In fact, the life-long Santa Fe resident has lost track of how many years she has volunteered for the Galveston County Fair & Rodeo, she said.
“It’s been a couple of decades,” she said of her many years working to support the yearly event. And she was happy to rope the next two generations of her family into the volunteer fold, she said.
Womack and her husband, Randy, entered their children in the Miss and Mister contests as a way to get them involved in the rodeo, she said.
“Randy and I spent a lot of time at the rodeo as volunteers when the kids were small,” Lanette Womack said. “All of our children enjoyed 4-H and FFA, so it seemed a natural fit to enter them in the contests. Now, my granddaughters are in the contests for the littles and they love it, too.”
Among the many traditions of the Galveston County Fair & Rodeo, which this year is from April 17–25 at Jack Brooks Park in Hitchcock, are pageants for children of varying ages. Youth compete for such titles as Fair King and Fair Queen, Little Miss and Little Mister and Baby Mister Cowboy and Baby Miss Cowgirl, among other categories. In the Little Mister and Miss 4-H competitions, for example, contestants are judged on personality, attitude, Western wear and participation in the Galveston County Fair & Rodeo, among other criteria.
Older participants are required to work events throughout the fair in an effort to earn points. Future kings and queens are required to work the shows, livestock office, hospitality room and as greeters at the entryway. The contestant with the highest points wins the title.
Contestants for Fair King and Queen must have an animal project or eight items in the youth project show, Womack said. They also must obtain their own sponsor for the entry fee of $50. And they have to write a personal narrative pointing out important facts about them. In that narrative, they have to say why they would best represent the fair and rodeo as king or queen, Womack said.
Many of today’s volunteers grew up working the rodeo and are now carrying on the tradition, long-time volunteer and Santa Fe resident Teresa Weishuhn said.
“I’ve seen families come full circle,” Weishuhn said. “I know several former contestants who have children competing now.”
The contests help build traditions that last generations, Womack said.
“These kids grow up in this environment and their whole hearts are in it,” Womack said. “They want to be here as much as we do. I know one young lady who grew up through the fair. She ran for queen every year and worked her tail off. She was never crowned — she missed the win by a half a point. She’s grown now, but still involved in the fair. Today, she’s the chairperson for the Fair Queen and King Contest. That’s the kind of tradition we are building here.”
Womack’s two sons are former title holders and her daughter Lindsay, 29, competed as a Junior Miss Cowgirl. Lindsay remains a volunteer today and her two daughters, Tinley, 3, and Savannah, 1, are competing this year in the baby and tiny competitions.
“These aren’t glamour-type pageants with fancy outfits and makeup,” said Weishuhn about “the littles” competitions. Weishuhn is the chairperson for Lil’ Mister and Miss Cowgirl.
“This contest is very natural, wholesome and fun for the contestants. They are judged 50 percent on personality, 30 percent attire and 20 percent poise,” she said.
Too young to work the rodeo booths, tiny tots must wear age-appropriate Western attire with no heavy makeup for the interviews and on the day of the contest.
During the interviews, contestants are introduced on stage, asked a series of simple questions in front of the judges and given the opportunity to perform a simple talent with a maximum time limit of three minutes. Cowboys and cowgirls can sing, tell jokes, skip rope or any other talent at which they excel. Baby contestants don’t undergo a separate interview and are accompanied on stage by an adult where they have the opportunity to show their personality and charm the judges, Weishuhn said.
One boy and one girl are chosen for title winners for each category with awards given for first and second runner-up, most congenial and best dressed. Each contestant will be allowed to win in only one category. Titles differ for each category and prizes are age-appropriate.
Lil’ Miss Fair and Rodeo 2019 Arabella Davidson of Santa Fe, 8, loves to sing and play softball.
“She’s my little slugger,” her mother, Brittany Koenig, said. Arabella won the talent competition for her rendition of Kelsea Ballerini’s “Yeah Boy.”
Lucas Renz of Santa Fe, 9, earned the title of Lil’ Mister Fair and Rodeo 2019. Lucas likes to tell jokes and tickled the judges’ funny bones for the talent show, his mother, Rachael, said. Lucas is a Bear Cub and a Cub Scout and spends much of his free time involved in those organizations.
“I try to stress the importance that this is a fun event and while everyone cannot win, they are all winners,’ Weishuhn said. “They all learn something during the process.”
Weishuhn has many heart-warming memories, she said. She has watched contestants who were initially afraid to participate be encouraged by their competitors, she said.
“Another time, during the talent portion, one of the girls started to forget her dance and another little girl — who she was competing against — jumped up and started dancing with her. It’s heart-warming to see them help each other,” Weishuhn said.
The children who participate walk away with more than a belt buckle, Womack said.
“They have a sense of camaraderie and tradition and what it means to volunteer in their community,” Womack said. “Traditions we hope they will continue with their own children.”