(Photo by Tim Jaynes, Staff)
SIKESTON - Traces of dust follow each step as Nate Hawkins strides across the Sikeston Jaycee Bootheel Rodeo ring. There is a problem one of the committee members wants him to see.
Before the chairman of the 2007 55th Annual Sikeston Jaycee Bootheel Rodeo reaches the midway mark, his phone rings. Hawkins looks at the number on the phone, grins and says: "He will have to wait."
For a year now, Hawkins has prepared for tonight - the opening of four days of rodeo and entertainment. He has learned the importance of prioritizing.
"This is the hardest time," said Hawkins about the days just prior to the rodeo's opening night. "Right now I'm probably working 60 hours a week and have been for the last three weeks and it might be more than that."
As chairman, Hawkins said it is his job to work with everyone involved in the rodeo and check on the details. "It involves just about every little thing you can think of - chairs, tents, entertainment. We work with everybody and any little problem that comes up I end up in the middle of it. Fortunately, we have good group of chairmen, a really good group."
It also helps that Hawkins has lots of experience around the Jaycee Bootheel Rodeo. A member of the Sikeston Jaycees for 11 years, he previously worked on the grounds crew and with entertainment.
Deke Lape, president of Rodeo Board, praised Hawkins commitment to the local rodeo. "Nate has put in a lot of work. It takes somebody to really commit to doing the job because of how much time your spend. Nate has done a lot of work and we are excited about the rodeo."
While this year's rodeo will return many of the favorites - such as the daring cowboys and the flashy, fast-riding cowgirls as well as top entertainers - it is also bringing something new. On Thursday night, a television crew will tape the rodeo to be shown as part of an 11-week series on rodeos across the nation.
"It was big deal to have our rodeo chosen and it is a real big deal for Sikeston because it will put our name out on national TV," Hawkins said.
According to Hawkins those attending Thursday night's rodeo will see the camera crews in operation.
The preparation for a top-ranked rodeo isn't just a Sikeston job. Hawkins and other Jaycees involved in the 2007 event attended the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas and a membership meeting of the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs. These events enabled the local Jaycee leaders to meet with others involved in rodeo and the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association Board of Directors to learn how they can improve the local event and is also where they made contact with the television production crew, Hawkins said.
But for the most part, the Rodeo chairman said, he has concentrated his efforts in Sikeston. From the end of the 2006 rodeo on Saturday night, Hawkins said the duties of chairman were turned over to him. The next Sunday morning, there was work to be done.
As chairman, Hawkins had to balance his work with a local semi-tractor trailer company and also time with his 9-year-old son. As the hours began mounting up in April, he admitted the balancing got tough.
"Yeah, there are a few things we missed," he said about his son. "We didn't get over to the lake as much but we are going to make up for that next summer. He has enjoyed being out here, too."
And, he thinks his son and all rodeo fans will have lots to enjoy during the four nights of rodeo being presented by the Jaycees.
"Everyone should come out and enjoy the rodeo. Once you start watching and the crowd gets involved, the better the cowboys are going to perform," he said.
Hawkins should know, he is from a family with roots in rodeo. He recalls watching his cousins work as bullfighters and protection men.
But there is even a more important reason to support the local Sikeston Jaycee Rodeo than the action and entertainment. Hawkins pointed out all the proceeds from event go back to the community.
"Nobody gets paid for their time. It all stays right here and goes to local charities and organizations," he said.
And for Hawkins personally there is one other thing to look forward to - Saturday night. "That will be fun because then I hand (the chairmanship) over to Ron Payne. He is already looking forward to it."
Hawkins cell phone went off again, flashing Payne's number. This time, he didn't have to wait.