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Students rope in rodeo business




HILL CITY -- A lot of work. A lot of community support. A lot of lessons learned.

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HILL CITY -- A lot of work. A lot of community support. A lot of lessons learned.

This school year has been one of tremendous effort for Hill City High School FFA members. First, adviser Larry Lyder made application to the Kansas High School Rodeo Association to host a weekend rodeo. Then once the application was granted, the 30-member strong FFA started hitting the streets looking for sponsorships, a stock contractor and a whole bunch of other things they had no idea they would need.

"We have two people in our FFA chapter who rodeo who are competing today, so that helped," said Ashley Strathman, a junior and a member of the rodeo committee.

But it all came together --  with just a few minor adjustments that were made ahead of the rodeo Saturday and Sunday at the Jayhawker Round-Up Rodeo Arena on the south side of town. More than 100 competitors took part during the two-day event.

Rodeo committee chairman Tate Tremblay said FFA members were at the rodeo grounds until midnight Friday night, getting everything ready for the competitors, their families and horses.

"It's definitely a lot of work," said Tremblay, a sophomore. "I have a lot more respect for the PRCA committee."

For the rodeo

A local committee headed by Louis Schindler prepares for the annual Jayhawker Round-Up Rodeo in late July, scheduling stock contractors, entertainment and ensuring the competitors are taken care of. In a sense, exactly what the students had to do.

Schindler said he helped the students out as much as he could, especially in getting the arena ready for action.

"I just hope it goes over real good and they might be back next year," he said.

Meanwhile, Schindler is busy preparing for this year's rodeo --  the 61st annual.

"It's a pretty good little workout," said Schindler, a member of the rodeo committee since moving to Hill City in the late 1960s.

Miss Rodeo Kansas Kara Hackney of Hays will make an appearance, as well as renowned PRCA announcer Randy Corley. Approximately 300 contestants are expected to make their way to Hill City on July 29 to 31.

The Graham County Fair takes place on the same days, so Jeanie Bell and her 4-H family spend much of their time on the grounds during the week.

"It's a good atmosphere," Bell said.

For the community

The impetus for applying to host a high school rodeo was a desire to bring economic activity to the community, Lyder said.

"We saw the opportunity come around," said Lyder, the recently elected mayor of Hill City. "That was the reason we wanted to do it."

The rodeo was expected to bring in $30,000 to the community through food, lodging and other expenditures by rodeo families and fans. Kirk Schweitzer, director of Graham County Economic Development, said he was happy to see the initiative the FFA chapter had undertaken to bring additional economic activity to town.

"We're real fortunate to not only have the students working on this ... but we get to see how involved (Lyder) is in the town," Schweitzer said.

Bell of Lenora watched as her daughter, Kayla, a freshman at Hill City High School, competed in her home arena for a change of pace during the weekend.

"It's a learning process for the school and everybody that's here," she said, adding she enjoys watching high school rodeo because of the "young talent."

"We're excited it's here," Kelly Jones, Hill City, said of the high school event.

For the students

Because of the community's support of the rodeo through sponsorships, the FFA chapter was able to use the rodeo as a fundraiser for future trips and projects.

"That's something that will help us throughout the next year, too, is having some extra money," Strathman said.

The chapter participates in many judging competitions throughout the year and will attend the state competition for Career Development Events in early May.

But the chapter won't be going it alone in paying for travel to conferences and competitions. Hill City's FFA Alumni is one of the largest in the state with 155 lifetime members.

Karen Keith, president of the alumni group, said the money raised from the weekend's concession stands at the rodeo will be used to support the chapter.

That includes driving students to events, making sure they have spending money, giving out scholarships to graduating seniors and even helping pay for FFA jackets from time to time.

"We also try to help with judging, with record books ... wherever our adviser needs us," Keith said.

Membership in the alumni group is not dependent on having been an FFA member in high school. Anyone can join at anytime, Keith said, and many parents of current FFA students are part of the organization.

"Our Hill City FFA kids are amazing," she said. "We like to think that we facilitate them."