Judging in the big time at National Western

Courtesy of National Western Stock Show

After making their first appearance at the National Western Stock Show in the livestock judging competition and finishing third, the La Plata County 4-H team is all smiles. They are, from left, coach Brad Fassett, team members Sadie Yates, Ashley Little, Michael Semler, Skkye Moreno, Chantel Campbell, and coaches Beth LaShell and Larissa LaShell.

Swine, pigs and cattle rarely appear in Neighbors unless they’re on the menu, but the agricultural community continues to thrive in La Plata County, and 4-H is one of the ways young people learn about the ag industry.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Megan Semler, a Bayfield native who was on the Colorado State University livestock judging team that took second place in a national competition. Well, I’ll give you one guess where Semler began learning those skills, and you’re right if you paid attention to the first paragraph and said 4-H.

The La Plata County 4-H Livestock Judging Team earned the right to represent Colorado at the National Western Stock Show by placing third at the state judging competition in June. A 4-H team from La Plata County had never represented the state at the competition before, so this was a big breakthrough.

Team members come from all kinds of backgrounds. Sadie Yates, 18, is the daughter of Troy and Molly Yates, and earned her GED diploma after being home-schooled. Ashley Little, the daughter of Brian and Carol Little, and Skkye Moreno, the daughter of Vicki Moreno, are both 18 and seniors at Durango High School.

Michael Semler, 16, son of Wayne and Melody Semler, is a junior at Bayfield High School, and Megan’s little brother. Chantel Campbell, 18, daughter of Tom and Geri Campbell, graduated from Durango High School and is a freshman at Seward County Community College in Liberal, Kan., where she is studying on a livestock-judging scholarship.

The team’s coaches are Brad Fassett, Beth LaShell and Larissa LaShell.

And at their first time out of the chute – hey, I can talk rodeo, too – the team came in third overall out of teams from 25 states and Canada, consisting of 100 individuals, who were competing. The team earned national champion ranking in oral reasoning, reserve national champion (also known as second place in the non-ag community) in cattle and swine, and fourth in sheep.

All five team members were in the top 20 in oral reasons and top 25 overall. Pretty impressive.

Here’s how the competition works. During the year, the students learn to evaluate cattle, sheep, hogs and goats (which are included in the sheep category for judging purposes) for both breeding and market value characteristics. (Think Westminster Dog Show if the dogs were going to be sold for food.) And don’t send me letters about that!

The students place four animals per class in 10 to 12 classes, then are required to give three to six sets of oral reasons.

“Livestock judging takes not only a keen sense of livestock evaluation, but also a presence of mind to stand up and defend your decisions,” Beth LaShell said in describing just what it takes to succeed in the discipline. I think the ability to create persuasive arguments on their feet is a valuable life skill all by itself.

Chantel Campbell is not the only graduate of the La Plata County 4-H Livestock Judging Team who has gone on to college on a scholarship to compete in livestock judging. Since 1994, 24 members of the team have received college scholarships to compete in the discipline, with four former members competing in the National Western in the collegiate division a few days later.

This discipline requires travel, because there aren’t many local competitions. During the last several months, the coaches have taken the team to Casper College in Wyoming, CSU in Fort Collins, Oklahoma Panhandle State University, West Texas A&M University and the Arizona National Livestock Show to participate both in training and contests.

The team raised about $7,000 to help with travel costs. Community members and businesses supported the team, including WPX Energy, Pargin Ranches, Basin Co-op, La Plata County 4-H, Semler Farms, Sunnyside Meats, Pine River Valley Centennial Rotary Club and Cox Conoco.

Students can begin learning the skills required for livestock judging starting at the age of 8 and are eligible to compete at the 4-H level through the age of 18. Several new members have joined the 2013 team, and now they know what it takes to succeed at the national level.

Beth LaShell served as my correspondent on this story, and believe me, she had some “splainin” to do.

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Enjoying their “calm before the Snowdown storm” birthdays are Vivian Lowe, Scott Cheesewright, Tammy (Honold) Pratt, Alex Kolter, Leah Blackburn, Caroline Knight, Jerry Wood, Alexander Golub, Carol Wallace, Kris Coleman, Doug Miller, Brooklyn Moore, Glenda Ehrig, Tracy Gillespie, Tom LaQuey, Katherine Campana, Alex Gnehm, Patti O’Brien, Peryl Schaaf, Chris Choate, Aggie Owens, Liz Snow, Ian Phillips, Butch Keller, Will Albert and John Anderson.

Best of belated birthday greetings go to Alex Dawson. The ladies on the Music in the Mountains staff were so busy working on this summer’s festival, they forgot to send his birthday to me!

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Whether you have fond recollections from prom or would like to pick up an experience you missed in your high school years, Sorrel Sky Gallery’s Snowdown Prom is the event for you.

It will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. Feb. 2, and promises to be the “do” of the winter festival with a DJ for dancing, martini tasting (bet you didn’t have that in high school) and appetizers hosted by Seasons Rotisserie & Grill, champagne, wine and beer.

Guests are encouraged to wear their 1980s-style prom dresses, with black-tie optional, so I’m expecting shoulder pads a linebacker would envy, enough blue eyeshadow to make Madonna green with envy and big hair any Texan would admire.

Making the event even more fun is the fact that it is a fundraiser for the new Hospice of Mercy Experience, which will be a warm, inviting and relaxing environment for patients who cannot be cared for at their homes.

As far as I’m concerned, this is the most important capital campaign that is taking place right now. It’s long overdue for our community to have a place like this, and it will be the closest such facility in a 200-mile radius.

America, in general, does not handle death well – by making it a taboo subject, when loss does occur, it is more overwhelming and difficult than it needs to be. This home will help those who live in our area spend their final days in this place they love.

Tickets are $50, and are available at Sorrel Sky, 828 Main Ave., 247-3555; or the Mercy Health Foundation, 1010 Three Springs Blvd., 764-2800.

Who says geeks can’t party like the best of them?

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A hot toddy is in order for the anniversary celebrations of Greg and Marilyn Farley and Jeff and Deborah Wells.

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Here’s how to reach me: neighbors@durangoherald.com; phone 375-4584; mail items to the Herald; or drop them off at the front desk. Please include contact names and phone numbers for all items.

I am happy to consider photos for Neighbors, but they must be high-quality, high-resolution photos (at least 1 MB memory) and include no more than three to five people. I need to know who’s who, left to right, and who to credit.

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