|Rodeo Injury Propels Bullrider into College Coaching Career|
Education key to Chad Phipps finding new opportunity in the sport he loves
No one seems to know the importance of a college education better than University of West Alabama (UWA) rodeo coach Chad Phipps.
Dalton, GA, native always felt sure he would make a living doing just what he had done for years: rodeoing. Phipps grew up in a rodeo family and spent his childhood surrounded by every aspect of the sport.
"My dad has been in rodeo his whole life and I have been around horses and in rodeos since I was born; I grew up rodeoing," Phipps said. "I got on my first calf when I was just five years old."
Phipps soon moved on from riding calves to getting on bucking bulls. He spent his years growing up roping and riding; pretty much doing anything that had to do with the sport of rodeo.
He competed in rodeos all throughout high school and, when it came time for graduation, was offered a rodeo scholarship to the University of Tennessee at Martin. He took the scholarship and became part of the Skyhawk Wrangler Rodeo Team, where he was named the team’s MVP in 2001 and 2002.
Everything seemed to be right on track for the young cowboy, who had also begun to rodeo professionally while still competing at the collegiate level. In 2000, Phipps took home the Professional Rodeo Cowboy Association’s (PRCA) award for Rookie of the Year in bull riding in the Southeastern Circuit. The next year, he won the prestigious title of PRCA Southeastern Circuit Champion Bull Rider and was also runner-up for the all-around title. To be eligible to compete for the title of All-Around Champion, cowboys must win money in at least two different rodeo events. Phipps competed professionally in saddle bronc riding, steer wrestling, team roping, tie-down calf roping and bull riding; every event but bareback riding. By winning the circuit, Phipps qualified for the 2002 Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo (DNCFR) in Pocatello, Idaho.
Phipps was making a living competing in the sport he had been a part of for so many years and had his eyes set on making the National Finals Rodeo and winning a world title. But in the dangerous sport of rodeo, no one is ever certain of the future.
In 2002, Phipps was riding at the top of his game when a bull stepped on him, ending his career as a professional bull rider.
"A bull stepped on my riding arm and broke my humerus," Phipps explained about the injury. "It crushed the bone into 15 little pieces. I had to have a plate and 16 screws put in my arm. It ended my career because my arm couldn’t take it anymore."
The injury may have kept him from competing in bull riding, but nothing could keep Phipps away from the sport he loved.
Two years ago, Phipps moved to Livingston to take over the position of head coach of the UWA rodeo team.
"I have always known there was nothing else I wanted to do," Phipps said about his involvement with rodeoing.
"I never imagined I would have a real job (not rodeoing) that had to do with rodeo," said Phipps, who knows that without his college education, a job as coach would have never been possible. "But I do and I love my job."
UWA established a rodeo team 12 years ago.
"They have had highs and they have had lows," Phipps explained about the history of the rodeo program at UWA.
The women’s rodeo team has won the region championship five times and the men’s team has finished second in the region three times.
UWA competes in the Ozark region, which is the largest region out of the 11 regions making up the National Intercollegiate Rodeo Association (NIRA). The region consists of 15 schools and nearly 400 individual competitors.
"The Ozark region goes up to Michigan State to Missouri Valley College and down through Arkansas and Mississippi and everything east," Phipps said.
In 2009, both the women’s and men’s teams finished in the number five spot in the region.
The rodeo team competes in ten college rodeos a year, five in the spring and five in the fall. The home rodeos for UWA are held at the Don C. Hines Rodeo Complex in Livingston.
Like the PRCA, college rodeo consists of the same traditional rodeo events: bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, calf roping, saddle bronc riding, women’s barrel racing and bull riding. But in college rodeos, the women are offered two more events: goat tying and break-away roping; some women also compete in team roping.
"College rodeo, for people who don’t know, is just like college football or college baseball," Phipps explained. "But it’s not sanctioned through the NCAA, so college rodeo participants can compete professionally and in college rodeos too."
One cowboy, who competes in both college and professional rodeos, is steer wrestler Ace Campbell of Robertsdale.
"Ace has won probably $40,000 in 2009 in professional and amateur events," Phipps said. "He just won the Duvall’s bulldogging in Checotah, OK. He beat all the top 100 steer wrestlers in the world…he won $16,000 out there."
Campbell is currently ranked number one in the PRCA Southeastern standings in the steer wrestling. He sits atop the all-around standings as well. Campbell also competes in the Professional Cowboy’s Association (PCA) rodeos and is ranked second in the steer wrestling.
Saddle bronc rider Justin Caylor of Andalusia competed in Casper, WY against the top cowboys from across the nation at the 2009 College National Finals Rodeo (CNFR).
"He (Caylor) had a little tough luck out there at the CNFR," Phipps said. "But he is currently ranked second in the PRCA Southeastern Circuit and has been in the top 50 in the world."
Many alumni of the UWA rodeo team have gone on to win big in professional rodeos across the country. One of them is Philadelphia, MS, bull rider Chance Smart, who graduated from UWA in 2006. Since college, Smart has qualified for the NFR in Las Vegas twice and was runner-up to the world championship title last year. Smart has won well over $100,000 in his professional rodeo career.
"We have a bunch of alumni here who have moved on and done really good," Phipps said.
"Jake Littlefield went to school here and now he is on television every week riding in the CBR (Championship Bull Riding)," he continued. "He rides bulls really well and has gone on to bigger and better things from college."
In 2008, UWA had 16 members on the rodeo team. In 2009, Coach Phipps has done a lot of work to recruit strong team members and looked to build the team up to 20-25 members.
"On the recruiting side of things, I get a lot of tips from people I know," Phipps explained. "I will go all over to recruit or sometimes they will contact me if they want to be a part of the team here at UWA.
"Our goal here is first and foremost to get an education. I stress the importance of getting a good education because I know from my career-ending injury, that happened just out of the blue, if I hadn’t had my college degree then I wouldn’t have gotten a good job like I have now.
"We want to get people on the team who want to win, but the main goal here is to get an education. I can give some scholarships, but not everybody can get one; there is a limited amount of money available for scholarships. But you can get on the rodeo team as long as you have competed in rodeo before."
Members of the rodeo team not only work hard to win in competition but also to raise money to benefit the rodeo program and hopefully one day be able to offer more scholarships to incoming cowboys and cowgirls.
"This rodeo team has a lot of community support," Phipps said. "But we don’t have a very big budget; so we have to do a lot of fundraising to support our team."
The UWA rodeo team puts on a rodeo every fall and hosts a bull riding in the spring. These two events serve as the team’s main fundraisers.
"We are currently working on having a round robin team roping every Sunday afternoon during the summer to help raise money," said Phipps. "We are also looking to do some 4-H shows on some Saturday afternoons to try and get the kids in the community involved."
Phipps works closely with the members of his team everyday to make sure the UWA rodeo team is the best it can be and competes at the top of their game.
"We try keeping a positive attitude; we have rodeo meetings every week and go over positive thinking handouts," Phipps explained. "We go over a lot of things that teach you to win in your head because rodeo is way more mental than it is physical. When you learn the head games and you got them down pat, the physical part comes easy."
Phipps is excited about this year for the UWA rodeo team and expects for them to come out on top of the competition.
"We have a good team," Phipps said. "Not only a good team that can win the region, but even have a good shot at a national championship next year. We have several kids who compete in their event at top levels at the professional level."
Winning is important to Coach Phipps and the entire UWA rodeo team, no doubt, but education remains the number one focus.
"When you are here on the UWA rodeo team, you are here to get an education," Phipps stated. "And secondly you are here to win at rodeo. We have got a group of winners here."
Mary-Glenn Smith is an AFC intern.