HARRIS COUNTY - HSA INSIDER

A weekly look at all things Houston sports from the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority: 6-year-old mutton buster steals the show at rodeo

Patti Smith (left) and the Houston Rodeo crowd got a treat when Marlie McDonald won the mutton busting. abc13.com

The Harris County – Houston Sports Authority Insider will take you inside Houston Sports each Friday because #WeAreHoustonSports!

Let me preface this by saying you can’t really prepare for interviewing five- and six-year-olds. Especially at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

The cowboys and cowgirls are easy. You have day sheets and background notes. You know the world champions, the contenders and the up-and-comers. You have a feel for the sport, the events and you know that, no matter what happens, you’re as ready as you can be for the night to unfold. Actually, you’re ready 20 nights in a row.

But mutton bustin’? That’s a whole different story.

We have a list of those tiny riders, their ages, what they want to be when they grow up and their favorite rodeo food. Honestly, most of my interviews are grins, shrugs, a few no ma-ams or yes sirs and an occasional hands-up, raise-the-roof celebrations for the big screens.

Most say very little or nothing. It’s like pulling teeth. And, if they do talk, you hear “Oh, I practice on my dad” or “I practice on my dog.” You think it’s the funniest thing ever when they do say it.

But then you get someone like Marlie McDonald.

The six-year-old with tangles of red curls and a personality as big as NRG Stadium brought down the house on opening night of the 2018 rodeo.

She held on for dear life and fought to win the first mutton bustin’ event of this year’s Rodeo Houston. Then, in the blink of an eye, she out-headlined headliner Garth Brooks.

The next day, she went viral.

I saw her with her red hair and thought she was the cutest little thing. And that’s the comment I made to start the interview – “Oh, look at you and your red hair.’’

I felt a bond because we both have red hair. Marlie wanted none of it.

She had her answer prepared. She went on about her dad and how she did what her parents told her –“I just hold on really tight."

She just took the interview from there. She was so caught up in the moment, so excited. Usually when the kids look up at the big screen and see themselves talking and they get distracted so I try to keep them from looking up.

You could tell Marlie saw herself and got a kick out of it. It fired her up and she kept going and going. I knew she wanted to be a spy so when I asked her what she wanted to be. The crowd loved it when she blurted out – a spy.

Then I asked her what part of being a spy was so interesting and her answer was a homerun with the crowd.

"Like, where you get to fight for the world,’’ she said. “And the bad guys...where you get to fight them."

There were 70,000-plus in there for Garth and the whole place went nuts. She stole the show. Garth was supposed to be the big entertainment, but I think Marlie was the hit of the night.

What I didn’t know at the time was that this spunky little girl had always been a fighter. Her mother Natalie was 34 weeks pregnant when Marlie was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Four days after she was born, doctors operated and removed the tumor and Marlie underwent two years of chemotherapy.

She’s now considered a long-term survivor and goes once a year for checkups.

The full story – not just the mutton busting champion and budding spy with curls -- went viral. My mother was in Florida and she saw it on the local news.

What’s really kind of cool is you see these kids and it makes you realize everyone has a story, I saw her and I thought here is this adorable little red-headed kid with these curls everywhere. She’s very precocious and has this big, giant personality.

Then you hear the rest of the story.

Her parents said they never knew if there would be a day when she could do something like she did Tuesday. That makes Marlie’s story all the more special.

And to hear her dad talking about what a blessing she is to the family and the big plans God has for her . . . It just really puts things into perspective.

You get caught up in the daily grind of the rodeo – it’s like Groundhog Day 20 days over and over and over again – and then you get stopped dead in your tracks.

There are some cool stories every rodeo, but I don’t think anyone has ever struck a chord the way Marlie has. She took – not only Houston – but the whole country by storm. She just won everyone’s hearts.

The other cool thing? She’ll be back for the final night of the rodeo where you’ve got the best of the best for the kids’ mutton busting. And the headliner that night? She’ll be the lead-in to Garth Brooks once again.

And honestly, I’m really hoping that Marlie wins the championship so I get to interview her again.



 

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

4th and a mile with Paul Muth

3 reasons Deshaun Watson looks poised to fill Harden's diva shoes

Houston fans haven't had a lot to cheer about lately. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

I'm a fan of sports athlete divas. I don't have to play with them, so it doesn't affect me, and it adds an extra layer of entertainment to the product. And at the end of the day, we're all just in this to be entertained, right?

Some fans, however, don't share that opinion, which is fine. They prefer no distractions. They want their team's stars to resemble something more like superheroes with flawless moral character. The quintessential locker room leader.

Those guys are great, but those guys are boring.

Luckily (for me at least) Houston was--until recently--home to one of the biggest divas in basketball for the past eight years. Rockets fans have had the pleasure of watching James Harden blossom from a humble sixth man of the year recipient just looking to lead a struggling franchise, to the Kardashian-dating, GQ cover modeling, "hunny bun" gifting ($100k cash for the less fluent, surrounded by actual honey buns), after hours club aficionado that we all know and…well…know.

Harden—as is common knowledge at this point—has finally moved on from the Rockets. This would seem to most that Houston is now either diva-devoid or diva-free, depending on your perspective. To that I say, "not so fast."

Filling Harden's shoes won't be easy, but it looks like there's a budding contender already in town looking to take the crown. Head out of the Toyota Center and make a quick drive down 288. There, you'll find a 25-year-old football player throwing touchdowns and raising eyebrows.

For all intents and purposes, Deshaun Watson is a good guy. He's charitable, he's taken a beating behind an abysmal offensive line and never complained. He is, for the most part, the superhero some clamor for.

Yet, there are several key similarities between Harden and Watson that suggest a changing of the guard may be in store. Let's take a look:

1) Undue influence on personnel decisions

In a recent article from ESPN, Tim MacMahon noted just how much pull Harden had over personnel decisions. From Dwight Howard, to Chris Paul, to Russell Westbrook, Harden has pointed his finger, declared "I want that," and watched as the Rockets' front office followed his marching orders. Now it wasn't quite as straightforward as that, but when Watson was asked about players potentially being traded this past deadline, he provided a curiously concrete response:

"Them boys ain't getting traded…[t]hat was something that we squashed."

"Nobody is going anywhere. We're going to stick with this team and keep pushing forward."

Following the deadline, Watson was asked about the fact that wide receiver Will Fuller had been shopped.

"It would've been hell if they did that for sure."

You have to be pretty comfortable with your staying power to throw candid general manager decrees and criticisms like Watson has.

2) Commitment

I don't doubt that Watson leaves it all out on the field, and the stats can back that up. And up until the last few games in a Rockets jersey I would say that Harden, too, gave everything he had. But playing hard and caring aren't always the same thing.

Any pick up game I take part in, I'm going to give 100% of my effort into helping my team win. The difference is that I honestly don't care if my team wins or loses, because we're just playing for fun. When you're a franchise player, though, fans typically prefer that you care, and both superstars have shown through body language or actions that they might not.

Take Harden for example. It was never a good look after losing a playoff series to the San Antonio Spurs in 2017 to be caught at a strip club just a few hours later. Nothing about that suggests that he cared.

Now take Watson, laughing and giggling and smiling game after game during a 4-12 season. Stepping into press conferences with an almost oblivious level of optimism permeating through his responses. It's ok to not take a JJ Watt style approach and look absolutely defeated week in and week out, but it's hardly too much to ask to put on a face for the fans for three hours every Sunday and look a little frustrated over being continuously embarrassed.

3) Immaturity

Whenever I'm in a bad mood or mad about something, I do one of two things. I don't talk to you at all, or I tell you exactly what is wrong. Not so much the case with these two.

Over the past few months, following Harden and Watson's social media has been the equivalent of knowing that you're significant other is mad, but them denying it. When asked, you get the "I'm FINE," response, but then you check their Instagram and there's some picture of a bird flying off with cursive lettering muttering some cryptic message about being held back from seeing how high they can soar. Usually in that situation it just ends up being a fight about eating the other person's leftovers without asking though.

With Harden it was an Instagram post of him holding a bottle cap, leading the sports world to spend DAYS trying to figure out if a grown man unscrewing a bottle was a hint that he wanted to be traded, or that he was just thirsty.

Now it's Watson, tweeting last Friday that "I was on 2 then I took it to 10." Again, no context. He's been caught "liking" tweets and posts suggesting trades to the Jets or the 49ers, but when confronted he denies that it's because he wants to be traded there. It's all childish, and it's pretty lame to be honest. Either be quiet in public, or be as loud as you can. When Harden finally spoke out, he was gone within 24 hours.

Now the difference is that Harden is about six years older and has been in the spotlight much longer than that. Harden is a tried and true, textbook, dyed in the wool diva. Watson's not there yet, but his jet-setting, fashion model-esque Instagram account paired with his recent antics suggest that there may be something brewing.

The question at this stage is whether he'll be in Houston long enough for any of us to find out.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome