Behind the scenes of the Maxwell High School Rodeo

It’s 2:15 p.m. at Maxwell High School on a Monday in late May when a voice comes over the PA system.

“Attention all students: Please report to your rodeo committees. Attendance will be taken today.”

In moments, the library is buzzing with activity as students bustle to their respective committees in the classrooms that surround it. With the Maxwell High School Rodeo just five days away, it’s crunch time, and the Maxwell High School entire student body will spend the next 40 minutes putting the finishing touches on organizing the 87th rendition of one of Colusa County’s longest running events.

In each of the rooms, the students are separated into more than a dozen committees, which are tasked with organizing some aspect of the rodeo.

“It’s kind of chaotic,” Kyle Miller, a community advisor for the rodeo said as he checked in with each of the committees on Monday.

While the late-stage rush may be frenzied, if all goes well, the result will be a seamless end product – the result of a symbiotic partnership between the students and staff at Maxwell High and the community as a whole.

The student committees have been meeting since January, with increasing frequency as the rodeo approaches. From refreshments and food to the 5K Bull Run, from the preparation of the rodeo grounds and the car show, every element of the rodeo is organized by a group of students, headed by a student chair – usually a senior – and an adult advisor, who is either a teacher or – like Miller – a community volunteer.

The rodeo actually integrated into Maxwell High School’s curriculum – it’s a longstanding tradition and an undertaking that has benefits outside of traditional academic learning, according to first-year Maxwell superintendent and principal Zach Thurman said.

“Every student has to join a different committee to get the rodeo ready… It’s an excellent thing for students to get the experience of community service, and it does pull the community together,” Thurman said. “It’s a very positive experience for students, and for staff… Even though it’s not an academic concept, community service is huge. We as a society have gotten away from that, and for our students to take part in, and take pride in their community, I think that’s very important.”

Thurman added that putting on the rodeo also gives students experience balancing budgets and the knowledge of what it takes to organize an event. It also teaches them to work with their peers and adults, both inside and outside the walls of Maxwell High.

“It’s very rare that a school district works this into their curriculum. This is the only one that I’m aware of… It’s because you’re helping to prepare kids for life in the real world. For them having the ability to organize things that are bigger than something just for the school: that’s real life experience… Many of these kids deal directly with the public. It’s good people skills they learn,” said Randy Wilson, who is the community advisor for the car show and has been helping organize the Maxwell Rodeo since 1998. “The art of responsibility and commitment is what a student gets out of doing this.”

Wilson said that the structure of the committees enables the gradual development of leadership skills: they start as a freshman doing “the most menial jobs on the committee” and take on more responsibility as they move through high school. By the time they are seniors, they are likely to have the experience and the know-how to chair a committee.

“Student chairs answer to the adult advisor, and has power over the other kids in the committee,” Wilson said. “He or she is the boss of the other students. The chair knows how to delegate things to the other kids.”

Wilson estimated that most students spend at least a few hours a month preparing for the rodeo, starting in January.

“Right now, it’s more,” Wilson said. “For the student committee chairs and the advisors, it’s weekly work (from the onset)… It takes commitment,” Wilson said. “Every cycle of kids that comes through is different. Some kids are already sitting in their seats when the committee meetings start, and others you have to rein in. The fact that the rodeo has gone on for all these years through all these cycles points to the fact that we have something good going. It’s a quasi-community/school event, unlike any other community. The community still holds onto its foundation of the things that they’ve always enjoyed to do – the rodeo is still here because of that. The foundation and the roots of the town are still in place.”

Serving in an ancillary capacity to the various school committees are members of the community apart from the school, who meet frequently at Maxwell Rodeo Community Meetings throughout the year.

“The community meetings, their specific role is to give overview and overall course direction to everybody else underneath, and also pick the rodeo’s grand marshal… Many of the community members were student committee members when they were young,” Wilson said, pointing to Miller as a former Maxwell High School student who had come back to help with rodeo as an adult.

“I don’t want the rodeo to die,” Miller explained. “It’s really the only thing that Maxwell has besides sports. At least three generations of my family have been involved with it, and it’s something I would like to see continue if I ever have kids.”

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Brian Pearson is the Managing Editor & Reporter for the Williams Pioneer Review. Brian joined the Williams Pioneer Review in June 2016 and is committed to bringing hyperlocal news to its readers. A few of his projects include reporting on local government and the newly feature sports page. To contact Brian about this article, or for future articles, please email him at brian@colusacountynews.net