AP NEWS

Katy ISD hosts rodeo for special needs kids

February 15, 2019

Faith Gonzalez had the confidence of a veteran cowhand as she swung a leg over a brown-and-white Paint Horse called Beaux. A smile spread over her face as a volunteer led Beaux in a wide circle on the floor of the Katy Independent School District’s new rodeo arena.

“Wow! Look at me! I’ve got it — I’ve got it you guys,” she shouted as onlookers cheered her on.

When the ride came to an end, Faith — a 7th grader at West Memorial Junior High — said it was the most exciting thing she had ever done.

“I wasn’t scared and I didn’t let go,” she said.

Faith was one of more than 500 students from Katy ISD’s Life Skills program who were visiting the district’s just-opened Gerald D. Young Agricultural Sciences Center, 5825 Katy Hockley Cut Off Road. The Life Skills program is for special needs students with what the district considers “significant cognitive disabilities.” The “Special Rodeo” was held on the first day of the annual Katy ISD FFA Livestock Show & Rodeo.

Joe Bochat, an agricultural science teacher and FFA adviser at Seven Lakes High School, helped to start Katy ISD’s Special Rodeo about nine years ago. About 90 Life Skills students participated in the inaugural Special Rodeo. This year more than 530 took part and were paired with their very own “Rodeo Buddy” — volunteer students from the different FFA programs in Katy ISD.

“The community does so much for our kids and (they) wanted to give back,” Bochat said.

The event was designed to give them a taste of the rodeo life without overwhelming them with commotion. Instead of riding live bulls, some of the students took an easy spin on the mechanical version. Rather than bronco busting, they had the chance to lead a miniature horse around the rodeo floor. Meanwhile, other students cheered on a frisbee-catching dog and checked out the goat-milking exhibition.

“We want this to be fun but educational,” Bochat said. “We’re trying to make it a learning event for them. They’re telling them how agriculture and rodeo works together.”

Sally Robinson, a 17-year-old Katy ISD student, was the Rodeo Buddy for Faith Gonzalez. A Katy High School junior, Robinson said her fellow FFA students were having as much fun as the special needs kids they were escorting around the arena.

“She told me that we were friends and it made me so happy,” Robinson said. “It’s just amazing to see the smiles on their faces.”

Alex Robinson learned something about himself while exploring the rodeo arena.

“I like the lasso. I like roping him,” the 14-year-old Memorial Parkway Junior High student said.

“Him” was Jacob Jenkins, a member of Sam Houston State University’s rodeo team and a volunteer at Katy ISD’s Special Rodeo.

Alex confidently flung the lasso, catching Jenkins — and occasionally a note-taking newspaper reporter — in his rope web.

“He tied me up and I wasn’t going anywhere,” Jenkins said. “This is a ton of fun. He’s having a fun time.”

Hailey Kallis, 14, was the Rodeo Buddy for Alex. The Taylor High FFA member said Alex quickly warmed up to her and was happy to tell her about his life.

“He’s just so much fun to talk to. It’s great when you can see them come out of their shell,” Kallis said.

Katy ISD Superintendent Ken Gregorski said the look on the faces of the Life Skills students makes it all worthwhile.

“You can see how excited they are to be part of something special — that says it all,” Gregorski said. “There’s nothing quite like it. This is one of a kind.”

mike.glenn@chron.com