A student team from Grove High School came home with the national championship in FFA livestock judging at the American Royal competition Nov. 1-2 in Kansas City. The team of four students won 11 plaques as well as the overall individual and team championships.
Team members representing the Grove Future Farmers of America are: Colton and Dalton Downing, sons of Wes and Kathy Downing and Denise Layman; Nick Bergman, son of Billy and Charlotte Bergman; and Dalton Hale, son of Bill and Renee Hale. The team is advised by Grove agriculture education instructor Shane Johnson.
“I am so proud of these students who worked extremely hard to earn this national recognition for their skills in livestock judging and public speaking,” said Johnson. “This honor opens up lots of college opportunities for them, and that’s my main goal for them.”
The Grove High School agriculture education program serves 93 students with Johnson as their instructor and advisor. Livestock judging includes evaluating and grading the animals in terms of structure, muscle and carcass merit.
To qualify for the national contest at American Royal, teams have to win first or second in their respective state contests. The Grove team qualified by winning second at the Oklahoma state contest this year at Oklahoma State University. Two other national contests are held in Indianapolis and Denver, but the American Royal competition was favored by Johnson and the team.
The Grove students won by 42 points over the second-place Indiana team, a “landslide by judging standards,” said Johnson. “To have all the team members placing in the top 10 overall individual category, including the number 1 and 2 spots, that’s phenomenal.”
Brothers Colton and Dalton Downing placed first and second, respectively, in overall individual performance. Nick Bergman placed seventh and Dalton Hale placed 10th in the category. Colton Downing currently is a freshman at Eastern Oklahoma State College at Wilburton, OK, but was eligible for the FFA contest because he competed with the team in the qualifier contest and has not yet competed at the collegiate level. Dalton Downing is a sophomore at Grove High School, Nick Bergman is a senior and Dalton Hale is a sophomore.
The Grove students competed as individuals and as a team in the livestock categories of sheep, swine, and beef. They also competed in the “reasons” category, in which they engage in public speaking to justify their judging decisions.
Johnson said the students in 4-H and FFA benefit greatly from the experience of livestock judging, because it helps improve their thinking, discipline and communication skills. Travel to collegiate competitions also exposes them to college campuses, encouraging them to consider going to college. The students compete in about a dozen contests each year.
Johnson noted that the Grove team has shown a positive work ethic. “These guys show up dedicated and ready to go when we’re on the road, no matter how early in the morning.” At the American Royal contest, they judged from 6:45 a.m. to 2:40 p.m.
“We knew we had one chance at this opportunity, and we were determined to represent the state of Oklahoma to the best of our abilities,” said Dalton Hale.
Nick Bergman appreciated the chance to impress colleges. “This was a great opportunity to get our name out there, to get colleges to realize we are good at this,” he said.
Shane Johnson credits the support of parents and the school for helping the students succeed. “We think these experiences are important because it gets kids involved in activities that can help them for a lifetime. We hope they get involved at a young age, through 4-H and FFA, so they can develop these leadership skills early.”
Following is a complete listing of the Grove students’ placements in the various categories:
Sheep (Individual): Dalton Downing, first; Colton Downing, third
Sheep (Team): Grove team, first
Swine (Individual): Nick Bergman, third; Dalton Hale, fourth
Swine (Team): Grove team, second
Beef (Individual): Colton Downing, first; Dalton Downing, second
Beef (Team): Grove team, first
Reasons (Individual): Colton Downing, second; Dalton Hale, fifth
Reasons (Team): Grove team, second
Overall (Individual): Colton Downing, first; Dalton Downing, second, Nick Bergman, seventh; Dalton Hale, 10th
Overall (Team): Grove team, first