It was one of the most emotional wins of 2014, when Texans Phillip James Shurden, Decatur, and John Coltharp, Stephenville, came tight in the #12 Noble Outfitters WSTR Finale IX.
For those familiar with their story, it was hard to fight back the tears. For Shurden and Coltharp, neither one tried.
“I was bawling like a baby,” Shurden admitted. “As soon as I faced, tears were rolling down. I knew when I roped him we were going to be no worse than second and when they said 7.9, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh!’ We needed to be an 8.10 or faster. I almost jumped right in John’s saddle, but I didn’t have the balance. Looking back now, I wish I would have done it.”
The duo took $300,000 back to Texas, along with a lifetime of memories and a bond even deeper than the one they had started with.
In early 2014 Shurden won the WSTR #11 Super Qualifier at the Lariat Bowl in Salado, Texas, with Scott Tiner. That, too, had been an emotional win.
The year prior (2013) the Wildfire Arena’s Lariat Bowl was the last place Shurden’s father, Phillip Sr., had roped before he passed away of a sudden heart attack. He was just 63. Winning that roping meant the beginning of the end of a long grieving process for Shurden.
“I hadn’t really roped since my dad passed,” he said at the time. “I just needed some time away. He was my best friend. He was the person I could count on. He taught me everything.”
The Lariat Bowl victory gave Shurden the renewed spirit and momentum he needed to start focusing on his roping. He went on to win around $50,000 leading up to Vegas.
“Even without the Finale, that’s the best year I’ve had,” he said. “Last year was the first year I really got serious about it in a long time.”
As Finale IX drew closer, Tiner had to draw out. Shurden knew exactly who to call.
“I didn’t even hesitate,” Shurden said. “I called up Papa John and said, ‘Do you want to rope?’”
Ten years ago, John and Kay Coltharp were living on 15,000 acres in Oklahoma.
“We were busy putting a ranch together for our only son, Caden,” said John. “In December of 2005 he passed away. He was only 16-years-old.”
It’s a parent’s worst nightmare and leaves a void that can never be replaced or forgotten.
“We stayed a while longer, put pretty soon we had to ask ourselves why we were beating our heads against the wall. In 2012 we packed up and moved to Stephenville.”
It was time for a fresh start, but there was one legacy they couldn’t leave behind. Both John and Kay are avid ropers and after having several memorial ropings in their son’s honor, they decided to start the Caden Coltharp Memorial Scholarship. The scholarship is given to one female and one male member of the Tarleton Rodeo Team. They just awarded the 2015 scholarship, marking its third consecutive year in Caden’s memory.
Located in the heart of Texas team roping country, the Coltharps started roping at every opportunity
“We probably rope at 15-20 World Series events a year,” said John. “When you live in Stephenville you don’t have to go very far to rope. We have a living quarters trailer we’ve pulled twice in a year. It’s for sale now.”
THE TIES THAT BIND
John Coltharp was at a local jackpot when he noticed Jennifer Williams (wife of World Champion Team Roper Speed Williams and Phillip Shurden’s sister) had his same bridle.
“I said, ‘Hey, you stole my headstall,’ and she said, ‘No, you stole mine.’ We got to visiting and just got to be friends from there. You know, Speedy, an 8-time World Champion, he’s not supposed to know anyone like us. But it’s been a wonderful friendship.”
When Jennifer and Phillip’s father passed away, John and Kay attended the funeral.
“Jennifer came up to me and said, ‘Now I know why God put you in our lives,’” Coltharp recalled with a long pause. “Her kids asked if they could call me Papa John and that’s what they’ve called me. I think we’ve got 11 kids calling us Papa John and Nana Kay now. Our project is to mount those kids. We can’t just let them ride stick horses you know.”
On their 50 acres in Stephenville, John and Kay have 47 horses.
“We had nine colts this year, and they are all doing well,” Coltharp said. “I don’t ride the colts anymore. At 63-years-old that ground comes pretty fast. But once they’re broke I’ll get after one and I’ll start roping on them.”
Shurden and Coltharp hadn’t known each other real well up until Shurden’s dad’s funeral. After that the two got to be as close as family and even though they didn’t qualify for the Finale as a team, they had roped together plenty.
“We didn’t have any luck together at all before the Finale last year,” Shurden said. “It’s funny, we’re actually following in those same footsteps this year. We can’t get three down. John says if I miss for him I have to rope with him again, but if he misses for me I can cut him. But I say we’re grandfathered in until one of us doesn’t want to rope anymore. We’re already entered in the #12 Finale again.”
THE HORSE DEAL
Late last year when Shurden was really starting to get hot, he was looking for additional horsepower. Coltharp had one that Shurden was interested in.
“I told him, ‘I really want that horse but with Vegas coming up can I just write you a check for him after the Finale?’ He made me a deal that if we finished in the top five he’d give me the horse. I laughed it off, I didn’t really think too much about it. But we were standing up there getting our saddles and pictures and he looked at me and said, ‘Hey, I’ll give you those papers when we get back.’”
“Phillip tried to write me a check, but I wouldn’t let him,” John laughed. “Kay and I have been around a long time and have had a lot of people help us. I figured if we were in the top five we’d make us some good money. He got the horse!”
The Coltharps had been planning on adding a covered arena to their place for a while, but after the Finale they used a portion of their earnings and jumped on it.
“We’ve been so busy breeding and foaling mares, we haven’t practiced a whole bunch,” said John. “Kay got a new horse and she’s actually won more money this year than I have. We’re fixing to get after it now though. We have no reason not to.”
But the money and lights and fanfare aside, there was only one thing Coltharp was thinking when he realized he’d won the 2014 Finale.
“I just remember looking at Kay and being so glad she was there with me,” John recalled. “And knowing how much we both wished Caden could be there with us.”
A CHANGE OF PACE
Prior to the Finale, Shurden had been working as an operator supervisor in the oil and gas industry—a job that required him to travel a lot.
“After the new year I called my boss and told them I was done,” Shurden said. “It ended on great terms. I worked for a great company, but being away from my wife, Haley, and my family—and I’m all about family—I just couldn’t take it anymore. Winning the Finale was a huge weight off my back. It was life changing for me for sure. It’s allowed me to start doing what I want to do instead of what I had to do.
“I grew up as a blacksmith with my dad,” Shurden added. “So I’ve been shoeing horses and just roping and riding. It’s been great. I’ve been winning some money. I finished second at the Business Man’s this year, so that was a good one.”
Shurden has made another really big change since the Finale—switching ends.
“I’ve always been a header. I had messed with heeling a little last year and my brother-in-law, Speedy, got onto me,” Shurden said. “He told me I needed to really start working on it. I’d been heeling on my good sorrel head horse, but about three months ago I found a nice heel horse. I love roping both ends. I’m still better at heading, but I think if I’m going to pursue roping as a career I’ll have a better chance heeling. I have a lot of work ahead of me, but I’m up for the challenge.”
Regardless of what the future holds, 2014 will be a year that Shurden always remembers.
“To take that qualifying spot from the Lariat Bowl all the way to Vegas and win it meant everything to me,” Shurden said. “Every time I look at my buckle or look at my saddles it makes me think of my dad. It was really a win for him. And to have it be with our Papa John, it couldn’t have worked out any better.”