GOSHEN COUNTY – Four Goshen County Future Farmers of America (FFA) youth brought home high marks from its recent judging competition at the National Western Stock Show (NWSS) in Denver, Colorado over the weekend.
“It was a struggle at times to get together to practice – but we made it work, we couldn’t be prouder of their achievements and how well they performed,” Lingle-Fort Laramie High School (LFL) and Torrington High School (THS) FFA Coach Jason Groene said. “We spent a lot of impromptu time practicing between athletics, academics and holiday schedules to refine their skills for this judging competition.”
“I want readers and our community to understand – there was a lot of involvement, commitment and dedication on behalf of these students and all our students in our FFA program,” Groene explained. “It wasn’t easy; we had some roadblocks, but we made it happen so they could place high in the competition. I think we can be really proud of their performances at the competition knowing they are all also heavily involved in athletic activities, such as wrestling, basketball and football.”
Groene said he loves watching the students play ball but for him, as an FFA educator, watching them expand their depth of knowledge in new things, such as FFA, is the most rewarding for him.
The team met twice over Christmas break and together did roughly 30 sets of reasons each for livestock judging in preparation for this weekend’s competition.
The team of four placed fourth overall at the competition this weekend in Denver, behind Indiana, Minnesota and West Virginia, who took first through third, respectively. The team originally qualified last spring at the Wyoming State FFA Convention, where they placed runner up, or second, as a team.
Groene said it was exciting because the team from Goshen County placed ahead of other national leaders from places like Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Montana and Kansas.
The team consisted of now-freshman at Northeastern Junior College (NJC in Sterling, Colorado) Rori Masterson, now-sophomore at LFL Louden Bremer, now-junior at THS Connor Booth and now-senior at THS Sam Birdsall.
“This was their opportunity, after taking runner-up last spring as a team, to try and bring home some high ranks,” Groene explained. “And for some of the kids, like Rori (Masterson), it was her last chance to win big with this team because she is at junior college now.”
A total of 16 teams nationwide competed in this year’s NWSS in four judging categories: cattle, sheep, swine and goats.
“The team evaluated 12 classes of life stock with six sets of reasons,” Groene explained. “Of the 64 individuals who participated in the 16 teams, four students per team, our students placed high in not only the team overall categories, but also really high in the individual categories as well – which is something to be proud of as a community.”
The team of four placed fourth overall, fourth in reasons, sixth in the cattle category, seventh in the sheep category and sixth in the swine category; out of 16 teams represented.
LFL Louden Bremer
Bremer placed fifth in individual overall; 13th overall in cattle; ninth overall in goats; 28th overall in sheep; and sixth overall in swine.
When asked how he got involved in livestock judging, Bremer said, “I started showing livestock when I was younger, and I raised show pigs – which led me to getting involved with the judging side of agriculture.”
Bremer explained Groene helped him expand his choices by joining the district FFA club and participating in the judging group after he spent most of his early years raising show swine.
“Mr. Groene prompted me to the livestock evaluation program in FAA – it’s been a fun new venture in the program, and it has taught me a lot – it’s a lot different than I initially thought it would be, but it’s also very rewarding,” Bremer further explained.
One thing that continues to draw Bremer into the program is “it provides opportunities where I can meet interesting people, learn new things and make connections that I might not have had – but connections are incredibly important in this industry and for my future.”
Bremer said the connections the FAA livestock judging program provides him, are his favorite thing about the program and it feeds a personal goal he has for himself to build a better profile of meaningful connections.
When asked what advice he would give his younger self, Bremer said, “When I was younger – I was more of a homebody, I didn’t get out very often, so I would tell my younger self to expand your horizons when you were younger, because the connections you make from an early age can help you later on in life.”
Adding, “Even if it’s just hanging out with the local 4-H club or FAA club or even friends who have livestock – just get out and learn as much as you can and make connections you can rely on later in life.”
As for what advice he would give to incoming freshmen seeking to join the FAA, Bremer said, “Be open minded.” Adding, “There are a lot of different ways you can go in FAA, some you might like and some you might not like – but you won’t know what you are truly good at unless you keep an open mind and attempt to do the different activities offered in FAA.”
“I’d also add to really listen to FAA coaches and advisors because they have a ton of experience, knowledge and really can help you progress much better,” Bremer further added.
Bremer said he never expected to place so well his third time in a judging competition. “It’s wrestling season, so I’ve been working on conditioning my mind and body to experience different pressures – which helped me a great deal in being able to withstand the pressures at the judging competition,” Bremer explained.
“Even though it’s a different kind of skill, it’s still grueling to stand there and evaluate livestock under different environments, circumstances, panels and all,” Bremer explained. “It all requires us to condition ourselves to be able to perform – which will help us when we go to college or into our future careers.”
“It’s really a great experience and critical to continue to develop this masterization of self-control and mindfulness,” Bremer added.
As far as his future looks, Bremer said he is simply seeking to create more opportunities for himself – whether that means going off to college, going through a career technical education (CTE) program or going into the agriculture industry.
“For me, I’m focused on creating as many opportunities as I can for myself and making connections that I might use one day in my future – I don’t really have any solid plans as of right now, except to continue in the FAA program,” Bremer explained.
“I would just like to give all the credit and glory to God and to Mr. Groene for pushing me to be a better person,” Bremer said.
This was the sophomore’s third competitive judging competition, and it earned him a scholarship to Colorado State University (CSU) after high school.
THS Connor Booth
Booth placed ninth in individual overall; 11th overall in cattle; 39th overall in goats; 15th overall in sheep; and fifth overall in swine.
Booth, a junior at Torrington High School, always dreamed of competing in FFA events since he was a child.
“I have been part of 4-H since I was five,” Booth said. “FFA is pretty much the same thing. I joined ag class and I’ve known about FFA since I was little and wanted to join it. There was an opportunity once we got into high school, so I took it.”
Booth was asked his favorite part of judging in FFA.
“The experiences you get to have involved with livestock judging,” Booth said. “The people you get to meet and the places you get to see and be involved with…I’d add to that, there’s a lot to learn with leadership, learning to become a leader.”
Booth was asked what advice he would give himself if he could in years past.
“Take the chances that are given…don’t leave stuff on the line,” he said. “They will just help to make you better. Once I started taking those chances that were given, it helped me a lot.”
Booth offered advice for others considering FFA in their future.
“It’s not going to be easy at the start,” Booth explained. “Working hard for what you want to achieve is one of the best things. Once the achievement comes, it’s a feel-good moment because you have worked for what you get, instead of being gifted to you; you have to work for it. It might not always be easy, but if you work for it, it will be better in the end for you.”
Booth, grew up in the farming and ranching business, said he wants to work in agriculture, but doesn’t know what he wants outside of that at this time.
“I definitely want to go into something dealing with ag,” he said. “I will probably go the junior college route for livestock judging purposes…being around cattle and farming is what I like to do, and I would love to do that, but if I find something better suited to me through college or other opportunities, I might bite at the chance.”
Despite the uncertainty of Booth’s future, he knows he wants to be involved in agriculture. For now, he is looking forward to the next year of FFA and agriculture education.
“I’m ready to get back at it for next year,” Booth said.
THS Sam Birdsall
Birdsall placed 40th in individual overall; 26th overall in cattle; 41st overall in goats; 43rd overall in sheep; and placed 45th in swine.
Birdsall, a senior originally from New York, found a calling to FFA when he moved here in 2020.
“I started FFA right when I moved here,” Birdsall explained, “My sister and I are originally from New York and back there, we didn’t have ag class or FFA…I was in FFA for about three months then we had the pandemic and got out of school. I didn’t really get a full tilt of FFA until my sophomore year, which would have been Connor’s first year.”
Booth and Birdsall have been on the same team each year since then.
“I think the best part (of FFA), would be self-development and public speaking; the reasons,” Birdsall said. “I think here, the intermediate divisions, middle schoolers, they only have to give two sets, once you get into high school it’s four sets at the state contest and at the national contest, it’s six sets of oral reasons. I think that’s the biggest part, public speaking, and second to that, would probably the people and places you get to see.”
Birdsall recounted the experience of traveling throughout the region.
“It’s kind of cool to go back out east…when we got to go to Kansas City, it was a lot different environment, different atmosphere, so it’s cool to get to see different parts of the country.”
Birdsall was asked what advice he would give to a younger version of himself.
“If you’re given the opportunity, jump in,” he said. “If you’re retired and you look back and you had all these opportunities, I know I wouldn’t be happy if I knew I left stuff out there.”
Birdsall offered advice for new potential members of FFA.
“Try new stuff,” Birdsall said. “I’m not saying jump in and do 10 contests your first year, but at FFA there are a lot of different events: public speaking, judging, (farm and agribusiness management). There’s a whole bunch of different events and you have four to six years to try a bunch of different events. For me, as a senior, it helped me figure out what I want to do after high school, so use that and try different things and use that as a steppingstone to get where you want to be.”
Birdsall said he plans to attend Kansas State next year.
“I will probably go to K-State,” he said. “I will either major in agricultural economy or finance. After that, I am going to finish my associate degree at EWC. I don’t know if I am going to judge or not, a lot of kids will go to a junior college to judge. I don’t know if I would be a little bit behind, but I have different experiences. I have no idea what I am going to do for extracurricular activities.”
Birdsall said, after his schooling, he would like to enter the business side of farming.
THS graduate Rori Masterson
Masterson placed 34th in individual overall; 34th overall in cattle; 26th overall in goats; 18th overall in sheep; and 44th overall in swine.
Masterson was not available for quotes in time for publication due to her college schedule.
Groene said, “We worked really hard at distracting these kids with everything they could possibly encounter at the judging and in the real world because you just never know where they might end up for a judging.”
Adding, “These are essential skills to manipulate so they can perform under pressure, but also, it prepares them for their future careers – no matter what industry that might end up being whether it’s in agriculture or something else.”
“As we found ways to make it work through improvisation – one thing that really comes to mind about this group of students is their dedication and commitment to not only themselves, but to the program and the team,” Groene further explained. “The world is going to demand much more of these students in their future endeavors, careers and lives – and this program has helped equip them to tackle those new experiences.”
When asked what advice Groene would continue to give students in the FFA club and future students to the club, he said, “Improvise, adapt and overcome – don’t be a bump on a pickle.”
“You can’t know what you’re made of or just how far you can go unless you face obstacles and overcome those,” Groene said. “Life will give these kids lots of distractions and obstacles, but it’s our hope their work here in our FFA program will further teach them how to be successful in life and their future careers.”
Groene explained the grueling physical and mental practice the students underwent and how it paid off for one of the students.
“One of our participants explained the walls this year were paper-thin, and he could hear the judging in the next room – so I asked him if that bothered him,” Groene further explained. “He responded that it did not, but that he was able to mentally note what was going on around him while still being able to perform. These are the sort of experiences we work hard at preparing them for.”
In the spring, a new student, yet to be determined, will join the three remaining team mates to go to the 2023 Wyoming State FFA Convention.
“We also have a secondary team of freshmen, who are looking to get their feet wet in the program in addition to the current team that we are thrilled to take to the state convention later this spring,” Groene stated. “One of those freshmen will join the other three on the main team and we are really looking forward to trying to bring home a championship this year instead of runner up.”
The teams will soon compete at the Wyoming State FFA Convention, April 19-23 in Cheyenne, where Goshen County FFA teams hope to clinch the championship.
“I’m really excited and looking forward to seeing what these guys have to offer in the spring – and they are a lot of fun,” Groene said. “I have a feeling we are going to see some amazing placements from them later this year.”