At 22 years old, Kyle Vasser became the first champion of the barrel race at the inaugural Phillips Championship Rodeo in 1980. After the event, Larry Phillips presented Vasser with the first barrel racing belt buckle for her accomplishment.

Now, that buckle has changed hands. On Friday, Vasser presented Larry’s granddaughter, Sage Phillips, with her 1980 championship belt buckle.

“It wasn’t planned,” Vasser said. “I know how much Larry’s memories mean to them and I know he’s so proud of where they’ve taken (the rodeo).”

Vasser said the rodeo has come a long way from when Larry Phillips first started it 40 years ago.

“I went back to that first rodeo when Larry (Phillips) had the rodeo in his backyard, … and to go from that to the (arena), I would say it was a much bigger crowd,” Vasser said. “The competition was awesome. I would say the competition really stepped up from back then.”

Vasser got a first-hand taste of this year’s competition in the 40th edition of the Phillips Championship rodeo. She competed in the barrel race, clocking in with a time of 15.0 seconds.

“Actually, I didn’t have that high expectations,” Vasser said on her race Friday night. “14.3 (seconds) won and we were a 15.0. I was really pleased with our performance. I came out smiling.”

40th a MilestoneBridgett Phillips, Larry’s daughter-in-law, is now one of the main organizers of the Phillips Championship. This year, the 40th edition has a little extra special meaning, as yet another milestone has been reached.

“Every year has special meaning, but I think the 40th, it like when you get to 30, you’re striving for 40, and I see it getting harder to get to 50,” Bridgett Phillips said. “I really wanted to celebrate 40, and then a month from now, I’ll start working on 50. When you have a big anniversary like this, you need to celebrate it because you never know if you’re going to get to have the next one.”

The theme of this year’s rodeo was officially “Tough Enough to Wear Pink.” Patrons and participants were encouraged to wear pink in support for breast cancer awareness.

This year, Phillips noted not only did the number of spectators increase, but also there were many people attending from outside Gordon County.

“Everybody seemed to have a great time this year,” Phillips said. “We had a lot of new people at the rodeo. Atlanta, Woodstock, Acworth. It was neat to have that data to know there were so many people from out of town.”

Vasser said for future rodeos, she hopes to see even more importance stressed on the younger participants.

“I would like to see even more emphasis on the high school rodeo,” Vasser said on the future of the rodeo. “I would like to see them receive more support and more sponsors. I think we need to support our kids.”

Over the weekend, there were competitors of all ages, including 6-year-old Sterling Pharr, of Resaca. Pharr competed in the barrel race.

Phillips said the best part of the two-day rodeo was seeing the young children in the stands watching the participants.

“Watching the little kids watch the rodeo because that was my father-in-law’s dream,” Phillips said. “It was his dream kids would be exposed to the western lifestyle. He grew up back in the old days watching Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. People grew up aspiring to be like them. (This year), it was great to see the little kids enjoy the rodeo. Maybe that will inspire them and make them want to be a cowboy.”