Longhorns lead the way
By DAWNE LEIKER
PHILLIPSBURG -- For spectators entering the grounds of Kansas' Largest Rodeo, a herd of longhorn steers brought back visions of the Old West.
Wes Sanders, owner of the herd, took a few minutes before leading the stately creatures into the arena to open Friday night's rodeo performance, reminiscing about how he came to be a longhorn rancher.
Purchased in 1992 at a cattle auction, the original herd of about 40 immediately made headlines in the Daily Okahoman when Sanders put them to work promoting the Woodward, Okla. rodeo.
In those 20 years, the herd has been showcased in Michigan, Texas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas.
"They're very well traveled," Sanders said. "They're a real blessing, too. We've met a lot of nice people and gone to a lot of places that we wouldn't have got to go otherwise."
Sanders said he enjoys watching spectators' reaction to the animals, and thinks the longhorns provide a great way to promote rodeos.
Although not a rodeo participant himself, Sanders has been a promoter of his local rodeo in Woodward for about two decades, serving as chairman of the rodeo committee for 10 years.
Thirty of the herd of 70 were on site Friday night.
Sanders has had as many as 350 longhorns, also using the animals for appearances in films, parades and a Clint Black music video.
Climbing the pens to catch a closer glimpse of the longhorns, four boys discussed which steer most resembled Bevo, the University of Texas mascot.
"He looks most like the big brown one," said Hayden Wiltfong, 11, Edmond.
For Hayden, joined by his brother, Judson, 10 and cousins Brody Dobbins and Hunter Dobbins of Bryan, Texas, spending time at Kansas' Biggest Rodeo "was awesome."
Hayden said he enjoyed the bull riding and rodeo clown, and would some day like to be a bull rider.
Judson said he'd like to take it one step farther.
"I want to be a bull fighter," Judson said. "They did it last night. They let a bull out and the clown jumps over it. ... I'd like to be a clown."
Four-year-old Brody, completing his first attempt at mutton busting at Friday's rodeo, said he'd just like to stick with mutton-busting when he grows up.
Attendance was down slightly for the three-day rodeo, which brought more than 400 contestants to western Kansas, according to Ruth Nicolaus, rodeo publicist. That slight decrease likely was due to triple-digit heat, she said. However, the rodeo has faithful followers who support the event regardless of temperature.
"This rodeo has a bit of magic in it," she said. "I wish I could bottle it and take it to my other rodeos."
Nicolaus, who works with 18 rodeos across the Midwest, credits the Phillipsburg community support of the event as its most central attribute. With folks volunteering each night to take tickets and work concession stands, nearly the entire town contributes in some fashion.
It's a legacy that goes back to 1929, and the days when railroad travel was part of prairie life. The name "Kansas Biggest Rodeo," which has stuck with the Phillipsburg Rodeo since 1930, became associated with the event through marketing by the Rock Island Railroad when it ran from Chicago to Denver.