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Move over boys. When it comes to dairy judging, these Spencer County girls know their stuff and they’re not afraid to prove it.
SCHS seniors Kelli Smitha, Whitney Owen, Michella White and Casandra Petersen now hold the title of being first in the nation for winning the Dairy Cattle Evaluation Career Development Event at the National FFA Convention held October 22-25 in Indianapolis.
Owen said competing was the easy part. The hard part was waiting to hear the results. As the judges worked their way to announcing the winning team – starting with 45th place – she said the girls grasped each others hands for support.
“I couldn’t breath,” said Owen.
When the judges got down to first and second place, the girls took the stage with a team of California boys made mostly of college freshmen. With just 10 points separating the two, Spencer County was announced the victor.
“It was a very emotional ordeal for us,” said Smitha.
“I was just numb,” said Petersen.
Spencer County FFA Advisor Bland Baird said that the girls’ score was so high that it would have been enough to win the last six national dairy judging competitions.
“I’m really proud of these guys,” said Baird. “Everybody wants to win, but only a few are willing to prepare to win.”
Since Kentucky students are allowed only one shot at nationals, preparing typically begins when a student decides to take FFA in the ninth grade. Through various classes to discover a student’s interests and skill level, Baird assigns teams of students to generally one of over two dozen agriculture specialties.
For Smith and Petersen, that meant they had several years of studying every aspect of each dairy cattle breed. Some students, like Petersen, expand their knowledge by participating in related 4-H events. Petersen recently participated with a team that won ninth place overall at the National 4-H Dairy Judging contest and first place in judging Jersey cattle.
But for their teammates who joined the effort last July, Owen and White had to cram years of knowledge into just a few short months.
“We didn’t even have a fall break,” said Smitha, as she described all day study sessions with the team.
Out of the four, only Petersen’s future plans to become a veterinarian could directly utilize the extensive knowledge of dairy cows that all possess. Career goals of the other three girls are to become a lawyer (White), an accountant (Owen) and “something in the equine industry” (Smitha).
“Just because a team is labeled something, doesn’t mean that’s all you get out of it,” said Petersen.
In fact, all four said participating in FFA and on the dairy judging team gave them so much more than just a brain full of cow facts.
“FFA has really helped me grow as a person,” said Smitha. “It changes everybody who is in it. I was really shy and it made me more confident.”
“It also brought us all together,” said Owens of her teammates and friends.
Next June the girls hope to band together one last time and compete at the international competition in Scotland.
“The trip is a once in a lifetime thing,” said Baird, who hopes to help the girls raise the $30,000 they will need to get overseas.
Baird said that to help get the fundraising effort started, students will be selling chances to win a $1,500 lawn mower donated by Hartland Equipment. His hopes are to raise $5,000 from the raffle. Baird also plans to solicit the help of Kentucky dairy farmers and other farming industry leaders.
While the girls each admitted that winning the national title was thrilling, placing first wasn’t their motivation.
“We didn’t do this to win. We did this to make Mr. Baird proud,” said Smitha.
This will be the second time in three years that a team from Spencer County has earned the honor to compete in the international competition. Former SCHS students Andrew Baird, Amanda Holaday, Tyler Poole, and Levi Shanks were the first ever Kentucky team to win a Dairy Cattle Evaluation title at the 2005 National FFA Convention.
Each member of the 2008 Dairy Cattle Evaluation team will receive a scholarship from the National FFA Organization. White, Smitha, and Petersen earned third, fourth and fifth place respectively. Owen earned a gold medal.
Other notable wins from the National FFA Convention include three Spencer County teams that finished in the top 10 of their career development event.
The Farm Management team, made up of Brian Garcia, Alex Poole, Madison Shanks and Jacob Walker, placed fifth in the nation.
The Agriculture Sales team, comprised of Erica McGaughey, Mercedes Andrade, Brenan Nethery, and Danielle Reeser, placed seventh.
The Agronomy team, including Gabriel Stodghill, Alison McGaughey, James Jeffiers, and Justin Goodlett, placed ninth.
Of the previous career development teams, members Danielle Reeser and Brian Garcia were also honored for earning individual scores that placed them in the top 10 among all participants in their category.
SCHS student Amanda Jewell was also recognized for being named a national winner in the Agri-Entrepreneurship contest for turning a small berry patch into a thriving business selling fruit, jams and plants. Only 10 such awards were given.
“Amanda is the epitome of entrepreneurship,” said Darryl Matherly, SCHS FFA advisor. “She recognized a business opportunity that no one else saw, surveyed people to determine if it was a viable idea, then developed a plan to turn her dream into a reality.”
Jewell’s dream was to be her own boss and to learn the business skills necessary to be successful. In three years, she was able to expand her operation to three acres and add the production of strawberries to her growing blackberry business.
“I think working for yourself is one of those things that most people dream about, and I have been able to do that,” said Jewell. “Now my goal is to attend college and major in economics or business. I have an interest in food science, which could be an avenue into running my own food company.”
“Amanda is a model for all of Kentucky agriculture to follow as we continue to diversify away from tobacco,” said Kentucky FFA Advisor Curt Lucas. “It is young people like Amanda who will lead our industry to greater success in the 21st Century.”
Jewell received $1,000 from the National FFA Organization to invest in her business in addition to the $1,000 she had previously received from the Kentucky FFA Foundation Project LEAD.
The final round of Spencer County’s national awards went to six students who were named as National Proficiency Finalists: Adam Eisenback, for Agricultural Mechanics Design and Fabrication; Zach Cotton, for Agricultural Mechanics Energy Systems; Tyler Milburn, for Diversified Crop Placement; Alysia Elmore, for Diversified Livestock Placement; Tyler Steele, for Forest Management; and Matthew Ware, for Specialty Crop.