Bringing Home More Than Trophies
by Aimee Nielson
Each year, Kentucky 4-H and UK College of Agriculture judging teams travel far and wide to many competitions where they judge beef cattle, dairy cattle, sheep, swine, horses, meat, poultry, land, and soils. The judging team experience builds confidence, leadership traits, decision-making skills, and logical reasoning ability, and it provides a vital hands-on approach to learning.
Team members dream of taking home trophies and bragging rights, but most importantly they learn a lot and become part of a family.
Some of our strongest alumni supporters are those who associate themselves with judging teams, said Robert Harmon, chair of the UK College of Agriculture Department of Animal and Food Sciences. They feel a closer connection to the University. They shared a common experience aside from classes.
UK extension meat scientist Benjy Mikel, who has coached the 4-H meat judging team and overseen the collegiate meat judging team, recalled a time several years ago when the collegiate contest was on the brink of non-existence for financial reasons.
Some folks thought we were just going to have to call it quits, Mikel said. I said, 'Well, let's start calling people,' and you know, by the end of the day we had $10,000. That's what judging teams do to people. They become so attached to their experience, they are determined for students after them to have the same opportunities.
Most of these youths are pretty good citizens when they show up for this, but I think it's still an opportunity to help them continue to develop as citizens and be ladies and gentlemen who are courteous and know how to handle themselves in public, said George Heersche, UK extension dairy specialist and coordinator of the dairy judging team. For me personally, it just helps me get out of bed in the morning. I get to know these youths, and they come back and tell me that I've made a difference-I need no better reason than that.
Like many judging alums who decide to pursue higher degrees, Jeffrey Bewley '98, one of Heersche's former team members, is pursuing a doctorate at Purdue University. He said dairy judging challenged him in several ways and fostered his love of the dairy industry.
One of my biggest challenges as a dairy judge was that I tended to pick cows that I wanted to take home to our dairy, he said. Those weren't necessarily the ones the judge was going to pick, though.
Dr. Heersche's leadership and wisdom was invaluable, Bewley said. His inspiration was incomparable. Those are the reasons I look back on my judging experiences with such fondness.
As with most families, comic relief sustains judging teams on many levels, especially when riding in crowded vans for long hours. UK soil judging coach A.D. Karathanasis remembers when, at a regional soil judging competition in Virginia, a bull escaped from an adjacent farm and began storming the competition site.
Fortunately, there were no attacks on students who were competing, but all of us were really panicked and urged everyone to find protection inside the soil pits, Karathanasis said, laughing. It was a chaotic situation then, but as I think about it now, it must have been hilarious. I wish we had a videotape of that.
Many alumni of 4-H and UK judging teams say their experiences gave them an edge in securing successful employment after graduation. Some even become coaches themselves at other universities or 4-H programs in Kentucky and other states. They proudly proclaim that their judging team experience shaped their lives and in many cases, their career paths.
Judging pushes you to do something outside your comfort zone, said Ashley Griffin, '93, '96, who is a University of Kentucky College of Agriculture extension communications specialist. She participated on a judging team herself in 4-H and at UK and then led Kentucky's 4-H equine programs from 1995 to 2001.
I think about some of the students I worked with in 4-H and how they may never have gotten up in front of a group before their judging experience, Griffin said. By the end of our time together, they were very aggressive speakers and it just gave them a whole different outlook going into college and later into their careers.
Joe Humphrey, one of Griffin's protégés, is the assistant coach of the equestrian team at the University of South Carolina. He judged horses and livestock while in Kentucky 4-H, focusing primarily on horses. Coming from Ballard County, Humphrey made the state team that went on to win the All-American Quarter Horse Congress contest in 1995. Now, in addition to his coaching duties, he's working toward obtaining credentials for several different horse breed organizations so he can judge at competitions such as those in which he participated as a 4-H'er.
It taught me not just how to judge horses, but how to prepare and set myself up to approach anything, Humphrey said. The discipline and repetition in getting ready for a competition is important, especially for me now as a coach.
Judging develops important character traits and makes the participants feel that they are part of something that enriches their lives. For some, judging is also a way to learn how to make solid decisions and feel confident about their choices. It can also be a complement to academic coursework.
A student who is involved in judging is, by the student's very nature, going to be much more interested in terms of the materials he or she is studying in the classroom, said Mike Mullen, UK College of Agriculture associate dean for academic programs. As a soil scientist myself, I believe judging soils is probably the single best way to learn soils.
University of Kentucky alum Shane Carlin now works as the residential life director for Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. As a teenager in Boone County, Carlin judged livestock for the late Monty Chappell on the Silver and Gold 4-H Livestock Judging Teams of 1987 through 1989. He and Chappell became very close, and Carlin believes his life was shaped in many ways by his coach and by his experiences on the judging team.
While I was going to UK, I was working for a student radio station, and I went by Dr. Chappell's office to ask if he'd heard me on the radio, Carlin recalled.
He said, 'Wow! The judging team really did pay off!' It was almost like a proud father moment for him. I think he felt he had a part in helping me better myself, and he did.
Perhaps Harmon summed up the judging team experience best. There's something unique about the judging team experience, he said. People who were involved hold it very dear. It's something that has helped them develop life skills. They will remember it for the rest of their lives.
In the early 1900s a rich and successful livestock judging tradition began at UK. Countless faculty members and graduate students have taken teams under their watch and enjoyed seeing them grow and sometimes win championships.
Alumni who were on judging teams while in the College will have a clear memory of standing in a crowded hallway, preparing their oral reasons, and waiting for a turn to impress. With everyone talking at once, the air was thick. I placed this class four, three, one, two-or was it three, four, two, one?
They take one last chance to clarify and firm up their statements before the door opens. With individual and team championships hanging in the balance, the first student confidently walks inside to defend his or her choices.
Most students on judging teams loathe oral reasons-a short speech defending how they placed classes of animals-but those same students will still admit that giving oral reasons makes them more organized and confident.
Joe Humphrey, who judged horses and livestock in Ballard County 4-H and now is assistant to the University of South Carolina Equestrian Team, is perhaps one of the very few students who enjoyed giving oral reasons.
I loved oral reasons, he said, laughing. I might not have been right, but I could give a valid reason for why I did what I did. Humphrey said knowing how to present oral reasons can help you get a job.
If you can stare down one of those judges who is trying to give you an evil eye and freak you out the second you walk through the door, you will be able to handle yourself in any interview, he said.
Shane Carlin '95, who judged livestock as a Boone County 4-H'er
and is now director of residential life at Capitol University in
Columbus, Ohio, said that it really was difficult to understand how
his score in reasons could be high even if he didn't get the class
judged just right.
We could still defend ourselves and get a higher score, he said.
I constantly asked myself, 'I placed it wrong, so how did I ever talk myself out of that one?'
UK extension professor Craig Wood judged horses while pursuing his undergraduate degree at Texas Tech, coached the New Mexico State University horse judging team while earning his master's and doctoral degrees, and coached the UK collegiate horse judging team for six years. Wood said it was rewarding to watch students who may have been timid and emotional at the beginning of their judging experience blossom into confident speakers by the end.
Students learn that they don't have to attach emotion to their decisions when they judge, he said. They learn to concentrate on the facts and then defend their position to the best of their ability. It's great to get them to stand up and believe in what they've done until they find out or are convinced otherwise.
Guy Lee Monty Chappell
They were his kids and he was their leader. Dr. Guy Lee Monty Chappell mentored his kids through Kentucky's 4-H livestock judging teams for more than 35 years before he unexpectedly passed away Oct. 15, 2004.
Monty was dedicated to the youth experience, said Robert Harmon, chair of the Department of Animal and Food Sciences. He was concerned about the welfare, proper training, and success of the students- it was never about him; it was always about the students.
Dr. Chappell insisted on etiquette, respect, honesty, appropriate dress, and conduct. He always was a gentleman, and he expected the same level of behavior from his kids. He judged shows on weekends and off hours and donated the money he earned to the judging program. He spent much of his own money in support of the program and spent many weekends numbering judging cards and stuffing envelopes.
Dr. Chappell joined the UK animal and food sciences department in 1966, and he began coordinating the state 4-H livestock programs in 1969. Over his 38-year career at UK, he trained 35 national 4-H livestock judging teams, 33 silver livestock judging teams, and 10 regional and national skill-a-thon teams while traveling over 100,000 miles throughout 14 states. Under Dr. Chappell's leadership, entries in the 4-H market lamb project grew from just one entry in 1966 to more than 300 in each of the last five years.
I've had the opportunity to be the director of 4-H programs in four states now, so I've worked with a lot of people, said Joe Kurth, assistant director for 4-H youth development in the UK College of Agriculture. I found Monty to be very true to his word. He would stick up for the kids in interactions with the state fair board, with his colleagues in animal science and other ag departments, and with his colleagues all across the country. His voice was a very calm, steady one.
Former team member Shane Carlin '95
said Dr. Chappell always took advantage of teachable moments
and made a difference in people's
There are so many people he affected while he was here that he will never be forgotten, Carlin said. His name will be passed on through generations because of his commitment and dedication.
A Memorial Fund has been established in Dr. Chappell's name.
If you would like to make a gift to the fund, please contact the Office for Advancement.