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Harper has learned the ropes

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

(Photo)
Chris Harper
SIKESTON - Sikeston native Chris Harper remembers attending his first Jaycee Bootheel Rodeo as a family outing. He was "probably 8 or 9" and it was the bull riding that got his attention back then, he recalled.

There were many more years of rodeo for him growing up and when he was old enough he joined the Jaycees.

Over the years, Harper, the 2006 Rodeo chairman, has learned the ropes behind the rodeo. He served as gate chairman, then worked on the grounds committee, followed by helping with the pens and chutes. Often it was Harper driving the tractor around the arena in between events.

Last year, Harper was co-chairman of the rodeo. "It is a learning experience because you get more in-depth with rodeo," he said about the experience.

While the co-chairman is typically well-prepared to step into the chairmanship, there always are some surprises. Harper noted this year's event included some different projects to complete, new sponsors and the biggest change, the addition of team roping.

"This was a surprise that I didn't foresee," he said about the new competition. "We knew it was coming but we didn't know what all would be expected of us."

There was additional livestock to contract for and new participants coming to Sikeston for the event. A Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association event, there were details to work out to ensure it met PRCA requirements.

In its first year, team roping is drawing a lot of interest Harper said. "Around the Sikeston area we have a lot of guys that are team ropers. They are glad to see it added as an event. A lot of people talk highly about it."

Not only did the PRCA work closely with the local organization to ensure the team roping event will go smoothly, according to the chairman, they also are helpful in working with the Jaycees to ensure a successful rodeo. The PRCA invited Jaycee officers to see another rodeo in action, provided updates on regulations and offered advice.

"PRCA is a really good organization to deal with," he said. "They help you out and really work with you. They tell you how to promote your rodeo a little bit better, how to work with your cowboys and the patrons who come to see the rodeo, how to put on the best rodeo possible."

Also Harper said former chairmen are an invaluable resource. Many times when faced with an obstacle, Harper said he would give one of them a call.

In fact, he said, that is probably the best part about being chairman - the people he has worked with during the past year. "Being general chairman you meet more people. The past chairmen and the Roosters (former Jaycee members) come out and help. Some of these guys you don't see a lot but as chairman you get to visit with everybody. I've become pretty good friends with some of the older gentlemen."

Also Harper offers high praise for Nathan Hawkins, this year's co-chairman and next year's rodeo chairman.

"Nate is doing really well. He is a real hard worker and he has always put in a 110 percent trying to help you in anyway he can," he said.

According to Harper, all the Jaycees work with one goal in mind: "We are trying to put on the best rodeo and the best entertainment we can with the facility we have and the funding we have and still make it an affordable family event."

Married with four children, Harper even tried to make the hours of working at the rodeo grounds a family event. His youngest children, ages 1 and 2, liked riding the tractor with dad and checking out the animals as they arrived; the older children, ages 13 and 15, are looking forward to the rodeo performances.

He credits the support of his wife to making it possible to serve as chairman. "It takes a toll on your family - two years out of your life," Harper said. "She has been really helpful through it."

As the rodeo reaches full swing, you can't blame Harper for thinking about Saturday night and the rodeo's conclusion. "When the lights go off," said Harper. "I will go home, go to bed and sleep for a day."

But surprisingly, he admitted that when he wakes up, "in a way I will kind of miss it. It kind of grows on you."

But there is next year.

Harper said he will be back, maybe driving the tractor or working in the pens. After all, when you are a Sikeston kid, rodeo is part of your life.