Special Events

The Controlled Chaos of the Calf Scramble

Photo by Jack Gorman

The Calf Scramble is a fan favorite event of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and while it may only last eight chaotic minutes the preparation and execution by the volunteers is much longer and more precise than what is seen on the dirt.

For those not in the know, the calf scramble is simple enough. 15 calves are ushered in through a human funnel where they come face to face with a line of 30 high school students. They are tasked with chasing down the bovine, fastening a halter and finally getting the animal to a square centered in the arena. Scramblers that achieve the goal are then labeled, “Catchers” and they receive a certificate for $1,750 to purchase a steer or heifer to raise, show and sell the following year for scholarship funds.
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Part of the Calf Scramble Posse prepares the participants in the bowels of NRG Stadium.
Photo by Jack Gorman

The hard working volunteers that comprise the Calf Scramble Committee make those eight minutes seem incredibly effortless. Nearly 900 people work to make the event a continued success. It is a continuous process from the Arena members that put on the event, to the Greeters that provide assistance after their catch and the Donors that provide the financial support.

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Committee members demonstrate how to correctly halter an animal.
Photo by Jack Gorman

The Arena volunteers are the most visible as they are seen on the rodeo floor. These are the same people that conduct the pre-event meeting with the youth. The meeting is a mixture of hyping the kids up, reviewing the rules and reaffirming the expectations for the following year if they were to catch a calf.

The meeting held on St. Patrick’s Day included inspirational speeches by committee members, former UH and current NFL quarterback Case Keenum, local media celebrities, Isiah Carey and Jennifer Reyna all provided the Scramblers with excitement and encouragement for their coming task.
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Current NFL quarterback and UH legend Case Keenum provides inspiration to the Calf Scramblers.
Photo by Jack Gorman

The event is one of the most successful and longest running at 80 years in the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. An excess of over $14 million have been distributed to more than 21,000 Calf Scramblers over that time. This may be their only opportunity to secure funding for the costs of attending college.

For the 70,000 people in attendance the event may be just a few moments of excitement between bull riding and Chuck Wagon races but the Scramblers will remember this experience for the rest of their lives. The commemorative numbered white shirts are now stained with armpit sweat, calf slobber, arena dirt and literal bullshit. Whether they were successful and became a Catcher or had the calf’s tail slip through their hands, they were one of the few that sweat under the bright lights of NRG Stadium and have a story to tell that many others only wish they possessed.
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Happy trails.
Photo by Jack Gorman
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Jackson is a freelance photographer and writer covering a variety of music and sporting events in the Houston area. He has contributed to the Houston Press since 2013.
Contact: Jack Gorman