Archive for Thursday, August 9, 2007

Kansas’ Biggest Rodeo keeps community alive

Cowboys warm up for the team roping event at Kansas' Biggest Rodeo in Phillipsburg, Kan.  The rodeo draws thousands to Phillipsburg, nearly tripling the population of the western Kansas town.

Cowboys warm up for the team roping event at Kansas' Biggest Rodeo in Phillipsburg, Kan. The rodeo draws thousands to Phillipsburg, nearly tripling the population of the western Kansas town.

August 9, 2007


Kansas' Biggest Rodeo

The baritone voice of John Wayne reverberated throughout the arena reciting "America, Why I Love Her" to the thousands of denim-clad cowboys and cowgirls.

A discord of smells, including manure, hamburgers and sweat, wafted overhead as the announcer's microphone screeched sharply into focus.

"Are you guys ready for some rodeo?" chirped the announcer, bouncing wall-to-wall sound in an overhead booth.

Since 1929, rodeo fans nationwide have transformed Phillipsburg, a small northwestern Kansas town, into a bustling, unpredictable city. Home of Kansas' Biggest Rodeo, Phillipsburg, about 60 miles north of Hays in Phillips County, is an anomaly in western Kansas, where the state's population is declining and aging, and communities struggle to find a voice in contemporary America.

"It's probably what's keeping this town alive," said Terry Gitchel, a Phillipsburg resident and past amateur bull rider. "There would be a lot less money coming into this place, I know that."

The population of Phillipsburg swelled to three times its normal size Saturday as an estimated 6,000 people flocked to the annual rodeo. The town's two motels were booked six months in advance. Long waits at the local restaurants were expected.

The event attracts the biggest names in rodeo, including past and current world champions, homegrown Kansas talent hoping to make it big, and even Frenchman Evan Jayne, a bareback rider from Marseille, who shared this year's bareback title with Chris Harris, of Itasca, Texas.

"This rodeo has turned into a community event," said Rod Innes, president of the rodeo. "Class reunions are held on this weekend. Family reunions are held on this weekend. Everyone comes home for the rodeo." The rodeo, it seems, is intrinsically linked to life in Phillipsburg.

Peyton Baldwin, a Kansas University senior from Gardner, was busy selling custom ropes, hats, spurs, boots and belt buckles in her family-owned and operated mobile western store. Baldwin and her family travel the country each summer hitting the professional rodeo circuit and state fairs.

"For a little town like this, it's a big deal," said Baldwin as she counted change in the mobile storefront parked on the rodeo grounds.

Beneath the stands, rodeo cowboys taped their arms, tucked their Wranglers inside their boots and stretched, preparing for the first and most physically demanding event of the evening: the bareback ride.

Dressed in neon and doused in makeup, Greg Rumohr, a bull fighter from Rio Vista, Texas, entertained the crowd with daring encounters with 2,000-pound bulls in the arena.

"I've had my ears tore off," Rumohr said. "The worst one I took was when a bull stuck a horn on the inside of the cheek of my butt. It didn't go into my intestines so I was able to fight bulls the next night."


pburg_girl 10 years, 10 months ago

It's great to see coverage of Phillipsburg and the rodeo. I was born and raised there (and live in eastern KS now) and my husband and I attended Saturday night. The monkeys riding dogs that were herding sheep was strange but of the dogs rolled over completely, but somehow the monkey stayed on. The announcer said they weren't tied on... maybe glue or Velcro?

Bubarubu 10 years, 10 months ago

To piggyback on gvermooten, corals are in the sea and have little place at a rodeo. Corrals, on the other hand...

gvermooten 10 years, 10 months ago

Super photos, but the Journal World still needs to learn not to rely on spell checkers. Pins, reigns, and shoots are all words, true, but they should have been spelled pens, reins, and chutes. Bicept isn't even a word.

Kind of a shame to have great shots sloppily captioned.

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