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Phillipsburg rodeo draws star athletes, large crowds





PHILLIPSBURG -- It took mere seconds for the calf to go from a full sprint to upside down with three legs roped together.

Glancing at a phone could have deprived spectators from witnessing the textbook calf roping at Phillipsburg's Kansas' Biggest Rodeo. One didn't need to hear the announcer hyping the rodeo athletes' accomplishments to realize world-class talent was being showcased.

There would be no intrigue without conflict between man and beast, however. Flawless performances and miscues alike captivated the 4,200 people in the stands.

Some calves fought back, thrashing their heads into the cowboys' torsos and avoiding capture. Other times, the pursuer's rope missed its mark, and the target scampered away. Saddle bronc riding tested contestant's mettle as their bodies violently thrashed around on the bucking horse.

Tuf Cooper, Decatur, Texas, competed in the tie-down calf roping event. Although he is ranked first in the world and shares the record for fastest tie-down at 6.3 seconds, he struggled to snare the calf with his rope.

Cooper's family is a powerhouse in the rodeo industry. Roy Cooper, his father, is in the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame, and his siblings, uncles and cousins also compete.

"It's just the way of life," Tuf said. "This is three or four generations back. It's what we do. It's the family business. The rodeo lifestyle is what we were blessed to get to live."

The name Jesus is printed on his collar to show spectators his faith.

"These are the opportunities God gives me every day to come out here and compete," he said.

Deb Christy, Norton, rode in the barrel race. The Phillipsburg-native is a professional rodeo athlete and competes in up to 50 events each year. Christy's husband, Steve, is also involved in rodeo and is on the Phillipsburg rodeo committee.

The event challenges riders to race around three barrels up to 30 mph in a cloverleaf pattern.

"I train my own horses, so the satisfaction of having them turn out to be a nice horse is probably my satisfaction," Christy said.

Many challenges confront the athletes. The animals are rarely to blame because their riders dictate speed and cues, and they also face the mental aspect of the sport.

"If you have a bad night, 99-percent of the time you as a rider didn't do your job ... usually your horse is pretty honest," she said.

The weekend also featured bareback riding, team roping, steer rustling and bull riding. Live music and dirt bikes performing tricks off a ramp also provided entertainment.