It was a whirlwind of tears, hugs, laughs and exchanged stories in the staging area of the Brazos County Expo Friday night as Catalena Cowgirls past and present prepared for the first night of the 50th and final Bryan Breakfast Lions Club PRCA Rodeo.
The night opened with a spoken and video tribute to the late Sammy and Pete Catalena — brothers, local leaders and co-founders of the Catalena Cowgirls — who both died in 2020.
Carolyn Catalena, Sammy’s wife and owner of Catalena Hatters, told The Eagle in May that this year’s rodeo — following a one-year, pandemic-induced hiatus — would be the final one, as well as the final performance for the renowned horse-riding drill team founded in the early 1990s.
About 30 minutes before the current Catalena Cowgirls team rode out with American flags, past members Jennifer Welch, Michelle Brown and Lynette Sealy weaved through the horses in the staging area to embrace Catalena family members and fellow Catalena Cowgirls of yesterday and today.
“We’re here to celebrate two great men, and to celebrate the sisterhood they gave us girls,” said Brown, who rode with the Cowgirls from 1995 to 2001. “They gave us the opportunity of a lifetime, and a chance to become sisters.”
Brown, Welch and Sealy said the Cowgirls held a reunion a few weeks ago, and all expressed gratitude for another chance to gather, tell stories and honor the Catalena brothers.
Sammy Catalena, who was elected Brazos County Precinct 2 commissioner in 2011 and owned Catalena Hatters, died on May 19, 2020, at age 72, and Pete, a civic and business leader, died Sept. 9 at age 75.
The video tribute aired at the start of the event, and included footage of the Cowgirls in the Astrodome. As it played, the crowd honored the Catelena family, including Brent Catelena, son of Pete, and Clay, son of Sammy.
Brent, 38, said he grew up around the Catalena Cowgirls and it meant a great deal to him to see past and present members gathered — and to see hundreds of families enjoying themselves at the rodeo.
“It’s hard to describe — it’s a way of life for us, and it’s sad that it’s ending,” he said. “They would love to see people here having a good time.”
Michaela Catalena has been a Catalena Cowgirl for 12 seasons. She became a member of the Catalena family when she married Scott, one of Sammy and Carolyn’s sons. Like many in attendance Friday night, she described the group’s final weekend as bittersweet and emotion-filled.
“We’re all glad to end this on such a high note — to make Sammy and Pete proud,” Michaela said. “They would be ecstatic to see this crowd here. The community really turned out. They would love this, and we’re all so proud to honor their memory by doing what we love.”
More than 2,000 people attended the rodeo Friday night, according to rodeo organizer Joanna Spencer. Several attendees said they were thrilled to be back at the locally organized rodeo after it was canceled in 2020. The crowd made constant noise throughout the night’s events, save for the opening prayer and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
“It’s a great turnout — the best we’ve had in a long time,” Spencer said. She anticipated the crowd on Saturday night could be standing room only.
The rodeo continues at 7:30 tonight with the final Catalena Cowgirls performance, team roping, barrel racing and other rodeo events as well as the kids calf scramble and activities for small children. Gates open at 6 p.m. For more information, visit bryanrodeo.com.