PHILLIPSBURG — The first weekend of August in Phillips County always means rodeo time, and for the 89th time, Kansas Biggest Rodeo will be in Phillipsburg Aug. 2 to 4.
Nearly 450 cowboys and cowgirls will make their way to north central Kansas for the chance at over $118,000 and beautiful gold buckles for the champions of each event.
Among those contestants are two local barrel racers who won’t have to travel far for the rodeo.
Deb Christy and Jenna Rolland will compete at the rodeo during slack on Tuesday.
Christy, who is married to long-time rodeo committee member Steve Christy, trains horses and will have been at futurities in South Dakota the week before the rodeo. Because her younger horses will have run at the futurities, she’ll give them a break and run one of her older horses, probably Blitz.
Blitz, a 10-year-old gelding, is a full brother to Christy’s famous horse The Chocolate Dash, who died seven years ago. Blitz looks like his brother but has a different personality. He’s very fast, and he loves running, Christy said.
“He has such a joy for life. He loves to run.”
Christy broke her leg last April and wasn’t able to rodeo until early July, so she isn’t in the standings for any of the associations in which she usually competes. She knows she won’t be going to any of the association finals, so she’s chosen to pro rodeo with another barrel racer, Jenna Rolland.
Ten years ago, Rolland, who grew up in Hays, called Christy, asking to learn how to barrel race. Rolland was an accomplished breakaway roper and team roper, and Christy began to mentor her.
The two will compete at pro rodeos this summer, Christy showing Rolland the ropes. Rolland will run at rodeos in Burwell, Crete and Wahoo, Neb., before meeting up with Christy as the two haul together to Phillipsburg, Hill City, Abilene, and Sidney and Carson, Iowa.
Rolland looks forward to pro rodeo with Christy. “I’m so excited,” she said. “It’s like when you’re a little kid and you see these rodeoson TV. I get to live that dream this summer.”
Christy speaks highly of her protégé, who is a high school English teacher at Northern Valley School in Almena. “She is doing phenomenal,” Christy said of Rolland. “She has turned into an incredible trainer. It’s been fun for me, because she wasn’t even out of school when I started working with her. Now she has her master’s degree. I’ve watched her grow up, and it’s been fun.”
Rolland loves her job at Northern Valley High School as much as she loves running barrels. “I have the best job in the world,” she said. Her students are special to her. “They are wonderful. I cannot tell you how wonderful they are.”
And she’s excited to be on the rodeo road, running barrels.
“I can’t believe I’m living this life. Who wouldn’t want to?”
The 2017 Phillipsburg barrel racing champion Christine Laughlin returns to defend her title.
The Pueblo, Colo. woman rounded the barrels at last year’s rodeoin 17.05 seconds to win first place and the buckle.
This year, as of press time, she was ranked twenty-second in the world standings and fighting to get into the coveted top fifteen in the world, who go on to the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo. Laughlin, who will run during slack on August 1, wasn’t sure which of her horses she will ride in Phillipsburg. She won last year’s rodeo on Jessi, a nine-year-old mare owned by Jack Vanwey. Jessi does well on softer ground, because “she uses her rear end quite a bit,” Laughlin said. “She prefers something she can get in and slide.” If Jessi isn’t her mount, Laughlin will ride her thirteen-year-old gray gelding named Six Pack, on whom she made the WNFR in 2014.
Laughlin has competed everywhere from Cheyenne to Salinas, Calif., Nampa, Idaho, and Ogden and Salt Lake City, Utah before coming to Phillipsburg. It takes a team to keep a barrel racer and her horses going on the road. Laughlin’s best friend, Josey Groves, drives a second truck and trailer, and Laughlin’s fiancé, Dean Derenzo, also drives. Derenzo’s sister, Doreen Wintermute, owns one of Laughlin’s backup horses. Making the WNFR is the ultimate goal, she said. “It’s how we make our living. We compare the WNFR to the super bowl, and like any pro athlete, it’s what you work for all year long.”
She is amazed at the prize money a town the size of Phillipsburg is able to raise. Rodeos in big towns in her home state don’t add as much to the purse as Phillipsburg. “It’s a really good rodeo to hit. Phillipsburg is so little, and they add more money. That’s just nice.”
Among the nine champions from the 2017 Phillipsburg rodeo, seven of them return: bareback rider Steven Dent (Mullen, Neb.); steer wrestler Tom Lewis (Lehi, Utah); team roping header Tyler Wade (Terrell, Texas); tie-down roper Blane Cox (Cameron, Texas); Laughlin; bull rider Wyatt Edwards (Sulphur, Okla.) and all-around hand Trevor Brazile (Decatur, Texas).
Twenty-five states and one Canadian province are represented among the contestants.
The rodeo begins with slack, the extra competition that doesn’t fit into the performances, on July 31 and Aug. 1 at 7 p.m. both nights. The performances are Aug. 2 to 4 at 8 p.m. each day.
Tickets range in price from $15 to $18 for adults and $11 to $14 for children ages 3 to 12, and can be purchased at Heritage Insurance Co. in Phillipsburg, 685 Third Street, or over the phone (785) 543-2448. They also are aavailable at the gate.
For more information, call (785) 543.2448 or visit the website atwww.KansasBiggestRodeo.com.