It isn't the contests between cowboys and livestock.
It isn't the concerts.
It isn't the fair food (mmmm... deep fried Twinkies!)
And not just for the scholarship winners.
Bart Pennington's Angus-Hereford crossbreed in 1985 gave him the confidence to start his own business. The Maine-Anjou and Angus hybrid Theresa Pritchard showed in 1974 paid her way through college and put her in choice seats at an Elvis concert. And along with the rush of TV interviews, Angie Elam's Limousin got her some extra, unexpected attention in 1980.
"I had probably a couple guys say, 'Hey, would you marry me? You're rich,' " Elam said.
Although decades have passed and much of the cash has been spent since Pennington, Pritchard and Elam presented the grand champion steers at the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, all say the victories they earned as teenagers still influence their lives.
"It was a big deal for a small girl from a small town," Elam, now 41, said from her farm in Seminole, where she raises cattle with her husband. "That Sunday afternoon, we went to the Galleria and everyone knew who I was. ... It was a day I will never forget."
More than 2,600 youngsters from 4-H Clubs across Texas are fattening their steers and shining their coats in the hopes of leaving the country's largest and richest stage for steers, the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, with the "Grand Champion" ribbon and a wad of cash. The biggest show of their steer-showing lives starts next Tuesday.
The steers will moo, chew and strut their stuff in 16 breed categories through Reliant Center, but only one will become the grand champion and earn its exhausted young exhibitor both a moment of big-city fame and a place in the record books among past victors.
Not to mention some big bucks.
My dear wife and I go to the rodeo every year -- multiple nights. And we always make sure we are there the night that the selection of the grand champion steer is made. It is a beautiful moment, watching the culmination of a lot of hard work for one boy or girl. I taught one recent winner during summer school, and got to see what great kids are involved in this program.
And i can't wait -- Rodeo is one week away!