ProFile: Phil Sumner Rodeo Company
Written by: Michele Toberer< Back to Articles
The International Finals Youth Rodeo, known as the world’s richest youth rodeo, will take place for the 27th year on July 7-12, 2019, in Shawnee, Oklahoma. Not many understand the beginnings of the event better than Phil Sumner of Phil Sumner Rodeo Company. “The national high school rodeo finals had been held for three years in Shawnee, and when they moved to Gillette, Wyoming, Ken Etchieson put together a plan for the IFYR. Ken’s whole concept was that he didn’t want just one stock contractor, he wanted to have several stock contractors bringing in the best stock for the kids to compete on. He was very specific that he didn’t want any eliminators in the rough stock. So, the whole deal turned out that I won the bid on the stock contract, and I ended up bringing in some of the best contractors to furnish the stock for the IFYR for 20 years. That first year, I provided all the labor to run three arenas, picked up broncs, had horses and bulls there, and coordinated the rest of the contractors. Over the years I’ve coordinated with many stock contractors such as: Wendel Ratchford, J.C. Ward, Dale Hall, David Bailey, Sammy Andrews, the Rumfords, Bar 44, Chuck Donaldson, Lindell Tunes, Danny Hajek, Charlie John Coffee, Hall Rodeo Company, Vicki Long, and Charlie Thompson.”
An Oklahoma native, Phil grew up between Stillwater and Perkins, Oklahoma, and graduated from Perkins High School before graduating from Oklahoma State University in 1966 with an animal science degree. Rodeo was a part of his upbringing and his senior year of high school he started riding bulls and made a short stint as a bareback rider as well. After leaving OSU, he managed 150 head of Black Angus in Glenwood, Arkansas, so rodeo was put on hold for a few years. Phil’s first wife, with whom he had a son, Rod, and set of boy and girl twins, Walt and Misty, had an aunt and uncle that were involved in a serious accident, so they came back to Stillwater, Oklahoma to help manage their dairy while they recuperated. Once the family was able to take back over at the dairy, Phil went to work for Oklahoma State University as the assistant beef herdsman for several years, before going to work for Farmland Industries in Enid, Oklahoma, where he has worked for 43 years. And between all the full-time jobs, Phil was building his name as a stock contractor throughout the country.
Starting out, Phil had the opportunity to breed to a bull, Andy Capp, owned by Jim Shoulders that was nearing the end of his successful career, having been a favored bull at the NFR for many years with Jim. Phil was glad to end up with several great bulls out of those crossings. “I was doing work with Carl Rice, out of Begas, Oklahoma at that time, picking up broncs and leasing him bulls, and several of those bulls made the IFR at that time in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Things kept progressing along and I went to a Jerald Smith sale in Texarkana and bought some bulls and ended up with some really good bulls. I’d buy bulls that were someone else’s mistake and I’d bring them home and had success in bringing them along.”
Phil had a portable bull riding arena, and he started hauling it to different locations and putting on bull ridings. Hank Moore put in Tumbleweeds, a bar in Stillwater, Oklahoma with an arena behind it, and Phil started bucking bulls there every Saturday night. He’d also buck bulls at Doug Blem’s arena on Sundays, plus buck bulls at his house in Goltry each week. “I had the opportunity to show those bulls three different types of arenas within a week’s time, it was good for them.” In 1991, he bought 3 bulls from Jess Kephart, one was Tumbleweed, and another, Bodacious. “I bought Bodacious in 1991 and in 1992 he went to the IFR, although he didn’t buck there. “Sammy Andrews started hauling them and Bodacious began an extremely successful career. He bucked off Bubba Don, and Terry Don West was the first man to ride him. Terry Don got on him four times, he rode him twice and got hurt twice. I watched Tuff Hedeman ride him in Long Beach and it was the best ride I’d ever seen on him, Tuff matched him move for move, but then got hurt on him. Tuff drew him at the NFR later and stepped off him out of the chute, because he didn’t want to chance getting hurt.” Bodacious had a reputation throughout the bull riding world as “the world’s most dangerous bull.” Bodacious was the bucking bull of they year in the PRCA twice, PBR bull of the year once, and was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs in 1999 and inducted into the Bull Riding Hall of Fame in 2017. On November 5, 2019, Bodacious will be recognized at the 2019 PBR Heroes & Legends Celebration at South Point Casino & Hotel with the PBR Brand of Honor, the sport’s highest recognition for a bovine athlete.
Besides Phil’s success in breeding and choosing bulls, he also had some stand-out horses over the years. “I started putting together a few head of horses, Sammy Andrews would send colts to our friend Danny Hajeck to grow in the summer, and I would haul the colts and started putting on rodeos. A lot of the horses out of that deal went on to be outstanding. Cool Water, Lock and Load, Power Play, Roly Poly; they all went on to make the NFR. One of the latest horses I hauled for Sammy was H-09 who went on to be an NFR saddlebronc horse. Having the success that I’ve had with the horses and bulls has been a very self-fulfilling experience.”
Through all the horses, bulls and productions, Phil was determined to not let rodeo interfere with his business life. “There were many times that I’d get off work on Friday, rent a car and drive to a rodeo where I had hired guys to haul my horse and meet me. I’d work as a pick-up man, and rodeo all weekend, and the guys would drop me off at work Monday morning, and I’d start work in the clothes I was wearing from the night before. Not too many people knew that’s what I was doing.”
Phil has a stepson, Jason Auddell, from his second wife, “Jason has a passion for rodeo and has been extremely helpful. He’s got some bulls that he’s had good success with, and his son Thatcher just graduated from high school but hauls bulls to events himself. All my kids have helped me at rodeos. My daughter helps time, and all of them have helped me at the IFR over the years. It’s great to share it all with them.” Phil’s wife Jeni is now helping him with some of the rodeos he puts on each year. Phil passed on the torch and stopped bringing stock to the IFYR 5 years ago, but he currently puts on many IPRA and KPRA rodeos each year.
Phil looks back fondly on the two decades he was involved with the IFYR, “One of the best things I ever did at the IFYR was on Sunday, I’d set up a trailer for the contractors to keep all their tack, and I’d put a 10 X 20 tent with a shade cloth on the west side, and I’d set up water misters. The stock contractors would all gather around there, and let me tell you, there were some very enjoyable stories told under that tent. Monday, the rodeo would start, so at that tent it was like the quiet before the storm.”