The George West students—Derek Cantu, Kelsey Johnson, Madison McClelland and Hillary Sellman – had a chance to finish up their current school year and ‘bask in their glory’. However, summer brought many hours of practice with their coach, Rick McClelland and more urgently, the students and their parents began work on raising the necessary funds to finance their trip to the national competition.
A fundraiser BBQ, two separate raffles, and generous donations from businesses and individuals all helped the students to raise enough money to be able to make the trip. Coach Rick McClelland was grateful expressing, “There were so many wonderful people who supported the students by cooking, baking, quilting, and more. I’m appreciative for all in our community who made this trip happen for the kids.” The students spent Saturday mornings selling tickets, weekdays after school visiting businesses, and Sunday afternoons at judging practice. In no time at all, September was upon them, travel arrangements had been made, and it was time to board the plane.
The “traveling squad” comprising of the judging team, their coach, and some of their parents, left George West at a very early 3:30 a.m. to make it to San Antonio in time to catch their plane. Excitement mounted for first time flyer, Madison McClelland. “I have never flown before. If it weren’t for the support of Live Oak County, I would not be able to experience this. It’s awesome.”
After a quick stop and plane change in Chicago, and a peek of the Sears Tower out of the airplane window, the group continued on to Madison. Upon arrival in Wisconsin after a long day of travel, the group managed to unwind in the hotel swimming pool and hot tub. As it turned out, that was the only leisurely time for the students. The rest of that night was reserved for homework and the next three days were full of official planned activities.
For two days, the group was up by 6 a.m. and on their way to private dairy farms. The judging teams were given access to the farms for practicing judging and for last minute tips from their coaches. (Remember, the LOC team practiced weekly by judging pictures of dairy cattle and watching videos. There are no dairy cattle in LOC!) The LOC team visited approximately eight dairy farms across Southern Wisconsin getting to see a variety of dairy breeds including Ayrshire, Holstein, Guernsey, Brown Swiss, and Jersey. In addition, the students toured the Dairy Shrine Museum and Nasco. According to team member Derek Cantu, “Touring the dairy farms was fun. It was interesting to meet other students from other states, and I was proud to represent Texas.”
After dinner with their families, the team went back to work with their coach until it was time to turn in to rest up for the next day. On competition day, the students were up early and on their way. Dressed in their team competition attire, the students studied dairy cattle for the third day in a row. They ranked the series of cattle in each breed and then met with judges to argue their reasoning for placing the cattle as they had. After about seven hours of competition, the rest was in the hands of the judges.
The 88th Annual National 4-H Dairy Cattle Judging Awards Banquet was the culmination of the jammed packed three days of hard work. According to the event program, the first year of competition was 1919, and the only years there was not a competition was 1943-45 because of World War II. The States of Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are the traditional powerhouses with Maryland coming out on top the majority of years. Texas has won the national competition only once, and that was in 1997. While the LOC Team had hoped to change the Texas drought, they were unable to do so. Hillary Sellman stated “While we couldn’t come home with a win for Live Oak County and Texas, we had the experience of a lifetime. Touring the dairies and seeing the country side was remarkable. I’m grateful for all the encouragement and support from my friends and my community.”
The 4-H Dairy Judging Event was part of the World Dairy Expo where officials were expecting 68,000 people representing 90 countries. In addition to the 4-H Division, there was also a National Intercollegiate Dairy Cattle Judging Division and an International Post-Secondary Dairy Cattle Judging Division. The three divisions of dairy judging were only a small part of The World Dairy Expo. The Expo highlighted topics such as genetics, nutrition, dairy farming equipment, alfalfa technology, genomics, employee management, and even crisis management for dairy farmers across the world. Educational seminars, vendor presentations, virtual farm tours, and dairy competition shows were scheduled for participants.
Kelsey Johnson stated, “My experience with the Live Oak County dairy judging team in Wisconsin is one that I will remember for the rest of my life. I had a great time and was able to see a lot of the Dairy industry in Wisconsin. I am thankful for all of the support that we received. I hope in the future that another team from our county can return to compete at the World Dairy Expo.”
Loaded with airport souvenirs and Expo t-shirts, the group returned home to George West. Tired, but grateful for the experience, the students are better people for this once-in-a-lifetime event. McClelland said that he is ready to go back and is already considering the next LOC Dairy Judging Team. “I’m ready to win Texas again so we can advance to the National Competition once more. I have dreams of advancing to the International Competition in Scotland.”