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CATTLE TODAY

JUDGING TEAMS PROVIDE FOUNDATIONS FOR SUCCESS

by: Clifford Mitchell

For prospective members of a livestock judging team, 1900 was a special year. It marked the first collegiate judging contest at the International Livestock Exposition. The quest was on for the honor to retire the Spoor Trophy, which recognizes continued excellence in the field of livestock judging. Iowa State University retired the first Spoor Trophy in 1903, beginning a legacy several universities would follow. More importantly it gave birth to competition that continually turned out leaders in a variety of professions throughout industry.

Molding young people into successful contributors to society is its trademark. An ever-lasting experience that spans across many generations, judging is an opportunity to be part of something true to its own. Scores from workouts often separate the final team from those who, unfortunately, have to stay home. However, unlike the person who did not make the final cut for that junior high basketball team, the rewards last a lifetime.

“Self-confidence is one of the major things judging instills in young people. Having confidence in your own ability is extremely important,” says Dr. Bill Able, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Northeast Oklahoma A & M. Able coached at the collegiate level from 1971 to 1985 winning National Championships at the Kansas State University and the University of Kentucky.

“To judge you have to learn how to communicate and each student hones their ability to sell their decision in the reasons room. Knowing you are not always right is a big part of judging. This teaches students they are going to be wrong part of the time so they know how to cope with it later in life,” says Jarold Callahan, President, Express Ranches, Yukon, Oklahoma. Callahan coached multiple national champions at Oklahoma State University.

“No matter what occupation a student pursues, skills to express yourself are very important. Judging is an analysis and reasons are a student's ability to organize thought, which will allow them to be successful in life,” says Bill Jacobs, Jacobs Ranch, Sulphur, Oklahoma. Jacobs coached Cal Poly San Louis Obispo for 16 years garnering one national championship and many top five finishes.

The collegiate judging experience, no matter which team a student went out for, often prepares students for the interview process that begins successful careers both within and outside the livestock industry. Skills developed in the most unlikely of scenarios provide major benefits.

“Judging teaches students to make a decision and then defend that decision. Communication skills are also involved because students learn present themselves and be more comfortable doing it,” says Dr. Chris Skaggs, who currently coaches Texas A & M University. Skaggs has been involved with judging teams at Kansas State, Iowa State and Texas A & M, winning national championships at all three universities.

“The dedication and commitment shown to get through the process allows for students to be more successful down the road. Judging gives students a chance to hone work skills and time management because they have to balance work and school with the judging team. Even the students that didn't make the trips shared in these experiences,” says Dr. Bob Totusek. Totusek coached very successful Oklahoma State teams from 1953 to 1961.

The success rate in later careers is something the entire judging community is proud of. A variety of factors including the skills these students develop are the foundation for this advantage, but just like anything else there is a certain component of try that helps former team members excel in their chosen fields.

“For a student to make the commitment to go out for the judging team shows they are willing to make the sacrifice and have the desire to be something better than average,” Callahan says. “These students have the kind of makeup it takes to be successful. Judging takes that desire, shapes it and seasons it.”

“Proportionately a large number of students that judge are successful. I was involved with student placement, as prospective employers would call they often asked to see any senior that was interested in their position, but they especially wanted to see those who went out for a judging team,” Totusek says. “These students show the commitment to go the extra mile. They have to balance a lot of things. You would be amazed at how many students grades actually get better during the time they compete on a judging team.”

“Because these students have had training on how to think on their feet and had a chance to improve their communication skills, interviewers immediately know who has had experience. This is attractive to potential employers,” Able says. “The success rate is highly attributed to their ability to communicate, make decisions and to stand behind those decisions.”

No single profession, within or outside the livestock industry, has benefited from this type of goal setter. However, it seems somewhat of an unusual, but needed, occupation has benefited greatly from the skills developed through hours spent in the reasons room.

“During my years at Cal Poly, I coached more students that went on to be attorneys than about any other profession,” Jacobs says. “They give a lot of credit to their success based on practicing and giving oral reasons. We are preparing individuals to make decisions in life, not giving them knowledge. Analyze, make a decision and then communicate why you made that decision. These skills are important because very few members of a livestock team become professional judges.”

“The best course for a budding law practice is livestock judging. There is little difference in giving a set of reasons than making a closing argument,” Totusek says. “Judging gives you practice in making decisions and making them quickly. Reasons are organizing thoughts and making a presentation that is concise, truthful and pleasant. These are extremely valuable tools no matter what the future occupation.”

Building these skills is ultimately what produces success. To each coach there is a little different philosophy on how to accomplish the task at hand. Ask any former judge and the coach served as a mentor or role model of some kind during this phase of their lives.

“As a coach you have to show young people how to be successful. A winning team is built of people with the desire to excel, succeed and get better,” Able says. “You have to get to know each individual and how they respond to help them reach their potential.”

“I wanted to be known as a tough coach, but I wanted all my students to say I was fair,” Jacobs says. “The first day of class I told everyone that I was the only one who had scored a 50 on every class we had ever had here at Cal Poly. It takes a special person to judge, but you have to start them off right and build from that foundation.”

“One size fits all will not work in coaching a livestock team. Each student has a slightly different personality,” Skaggs says. “Every individual requires a distinct technique to help them be successful.”

Each coach has a responsibility. Even though the ultimate goal is to take home the hardware and win the contest, achieving this goal depends on execution. The competitive nature always dictates a win, but each successful coach uses the contest as a building block to help enhance the learning atmosphere.

“I wanted my teams to be as prepared as they possibly could be. This is a trait of a good coach. Winning was not the most important thing. As long as we were prepared to win, winning would take care of itself,” Able says. “It is a disservice not to be competitive every time out. No one likes to be embarrassed, if the team isn't prepared they don't know what to do and it is discouraging.”

“You have to take a team into a contest where they can at least make a good showing. I used to make them read a book on positive thinking. I had to make them believe they could win,” Jacobs says. “Preparation comes from the coach.”

“Being well prepared when you go into the contest is part of the dedication that comes from being the coach,” Skaggs says. “Being prepared takes a lot of extra effort and hard work. It is no different than doing your homework for a job interview, you have to be ready.”

Part of being prepared is the coach's ability to follow type changes that will improve the team's chances to win. These type changes follow industry trends and are sometimes a difficult pill to swallow.

“It is a tricky thing to stay with the trends even though you didn't necessarily believe in them. I had to swallow my pride and work,” Able says. “At one time, we had a type change in hogs that I didn't agree with and fought it for years. Finally, I had to give in because I was getting my teams beat. You can't allow personal biases into the system that will keep your teams from winning.”

“There is a right way and a wrong way to judge,” Jacobs says. “Keeping up with the type changes is an important part of being successful.”

“It was a challenge to keep up with type changes,” Totusek says. “How quickly you adapted to those changes affected the scores at each contest.”

Schedules for both team members and the coaches are hectic. The dedication extends beyond the student, but a great deal of it is required from the coaches. Satisfaction is derived from successful outings, but the educator feels gratified as each individual develops life skills.

“You have to be really dedicated to coach a judging team. It almost becomes a way of life. As the coach, you have to be a lot of different things to the team members, because you spend a lot of time together and share a lot of things,” Callahan says. “Coaching the livestock team was as rewarding as anything I have ever done.”

“The secret to coaching the judging team was to build these traits and get the best out of all my students. I had to match each individual's abilities to form my team,” Able says. “You become almost like a parent and derive a lot of satisfaction out of what former students accomplish.”

“You can't compare a judging team coach to a regular faculty member. We had to workout every weekend and Christmas break,” Jacobs says. “As a coach you just have to put your head down and say I want to win. You have to be dedicated and love to do it.”

Success breeds success. Obviously this is a true statement, but for most involved with a judging team, competition builds a certain bond among team members. The camaraderie extends past many boundaries. Few know the respect, derived from the hard work, dedication and hours spent with each other, this experience brings.

“Judging is a very humbling. Everyone who has judged, at one time or another, shares a common experience,” Callahan says. “It is a bond that transcends generations and geographical barriers.”

“Judging builds a tremendous amount of respect for your fellow competitors. Some of the best friends I have today are the coaches I coached against,” Totusek says. “The first team I had still takes the time to get together every couple years. There is a tremendous amount of mutual respect for each other that carries over for the rest of their lives.”

“This group develops bonds and friendships that will last a lifetime,” Able says. “There are very few groups of people that maintain that much respect for each other over the long haul.”

“A team that wins or loses, they all work equally hard. This group becomes very close because they build respect for each other,” Jacobs says. “It is sometimes hard to see this develop because they are all competing against each other, but they do form this bond.”

In some sports leadership skills or other things a player brings to the table besides the numbers are called intangibles. In livestock judging, the skills taught are readily accepted, but the experience provides lifelong intangibles that are irreplaceable when it comes to positioning for future career development.

“Each person who accepts the challenge of competing on a judging team has the opportunity to make some influential contacts that could become important later on in life,” Totusek says. “During the workouts, these students have the opportunity to visit places that are important to the livestock industry and its culture. Exposure to different breeds and species of livestock is valuable experience.”

“When you compete against each other for a long time you have the opportunity to meet a lot of people that could help you down the road,” Skaggs says. “These people could play major roles in a lot of decisions and there is a good chance students will meet again as they follow the paths of their career.”

Universities depend on the support of alumni to help conquer the daily challenges of providing an education to everyone who walks through their doors. Fundraising is an extremely important part of every university. It seems judging team members excel in the giving part of the equation compared to other students.

“I have noticed people who were part of a judging team are better supporters of their alma mater than other students,” Totusek says. “It is for a variety of reasons, but most importantly they are grateful and have the opportunity to give something back.”

An unwritten code comes with being a member of a judging team. Respect is a huge part of the big picture. Coaches have a purpose when the code is explained, but ultimately it is representing the university in a favorable manner that sheds a positive light on the whole concept. This code has been held sacred from generation to generation of judging teams, yet another piece of the puzzle that helps mold successful people.

“My teams acting in a professional manner was more important to me than winning. It was important when we went to someone's place we weren't swinging on the gates or sitting on the fences. We had to treat our hosts with respect and thank them for the time they took for us to be there,” Callahan says. “It was an important part of the program. The discipline it took to be punctual and to come dressed in the proper attire showed respect for what we were doing.”

“By wearing a coat and tie, students are showing respect for their university and the livestock industry,” Jacobs says. “This is one thing that hasn't changed since the beginning and I am glad because it makes a favorable impression.”

“I never really had to state the fact to my students because they always tried to set themselves apart,” Able says. “We have to set rules and guidelines for young people to follow later on in life.”

“I try to instill to them the fact that you are representing something more than yourself. Put the best foot forward for your team and the university you represent,” Skaggs says. “Sometimes, the teams that do well, it depends on their attitude. They have to have enough respect for one another to push each other to be successful.”

It is a personal challenge for each coach to help former team members. This is a very important part of the whole experience and is cherished by each competitor at every university.

The common ground reached through respect and determination helps each generation garner benefits made from a commitment that begins under duress during a very strenuous Christmas workout. At the same time, the coach becomes a lifelong contact to his former students and each individual takes something special from an opportunity taken.

“As a coach I have to make the team members aware of their opportunities,” Skaggs says. “When we're finished it is my job to help them move forward.”

“Between Denver and Louisville it is approximately 10 months. You have a lot of time to bring out the best in each individual,” Jacobs says. “When you take a young person on a team don't leave anyone behind. You have a responsibility to everyone that comes out for the team.”

“The ability to stay with it and accomplish what they have been asked to do is what sets these young people apart,” Able says. “I believed in getting all my students a chance to compete.”

“When I was department head I did a lot of exit interviews. The one thing most students regretted was not being part of a judging team,” Totusek says. “I have never talked to anyone who was a part of it who regretted taking the opportunity.”

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