Riding high on a wave of blue
Winning the state trophy was also a first for the community of Cove, a first for the school and a first for the three-year-old FFA chapter. It seems this group likes setting firsts.
Although a state win has its own merit, the team didn't rest on its laurels for long. Winning state meant the top four scoring members of the Cove team would represent Oregon at the 2007 National FFA Convention in Indianapolis. Another first.
During the last week of October, the Cove FFA Chapter's advanced livestock judging team comprised of Moore, DelCurto, Puckett and Murchison competed against 44 other teams from throughout the nation. As a team, Cove placed fourth. Individually, all four members placed in the top 20, and DelCurto finished third overall.
When youthful energy, determination, intelligence and talent combine, the results are an awesome thing to behold.
Back in 2005, it was that winning combination that drove a core group of committed Cove High School students to successfully push for an FFA Charter Chapter for their school. They succeeded. And as far as anyone knows, that was also a first.
"Cove has never had an FFA chapter," said Superintendent Jeff Clark at the time. "Not in recent history, anyway. I've talked about it with different people, and no one I've talked with can remember one."
As to why they wanted to bring the FFA program to Cove High School, the chapter's first president — then senior Maddee Moore — said, "FFA is more than agriculture. It's a leadership program. Cove doesn't have any stand-alone program for leadership."
With an initial membership of 20 kids, nearly one-fourth of the entire high school student body, and Toby Koehn as their enthusiastic adviser, the charter chapter jumped into FFA with abandon.
It truly is exceptional that, during their third year as a chapter and second year at competing in FFA, the chapter's advanced livestock judging team would not only become state champions, but place fourth in national competition.
"It's quite the accomplishment for any school, let alone one with 80 kids," said Clark.
Murchison said some of the chapters Cove competed against have 80 kids in their FFA programs alone — a big pool of talent to draw from.
At the state level, the team didn't actually compete together. Individual scores combine for team results. The top combined score results in the winner. But at nationals, the team not only competed individually, but also had to work together and compete as a team.
The thing about judging livestock, DelCurto says, is that it's mostly based on opinion.
"We did disagree sometimes, but we didn't argue. We listened to each other's opinions, and we learned something from each other," DelCurto said.
For one part of the competition, the team had to asses the qualities of three livestock species — one set each of heifers and steers in cattle, two breeds of sheep and three breeds of swine. They had to choose as a team which animals to keep and which to cull. Whether or not a judge would think that decision was right or wrong was always an unknown.
"You never know with judging. It's really all about your opinion," DelCurto said, adding that explaining that opinion to the judge was also part of the competition.
Power of persuasion, learning to think on your feet and a wealth of background knowledge are invaluable tools to have in livestock judging.
Admittedly, the girls had already stored quite a few of those tools while in 4-H. In fact, another reason they wanted an FFA Chapter at Cove was so they could continue to compete beyond 4-H.
One could say this team has been preparing for this their whole lives. But they didn't count on their past successes to put them in the winner's circle at state or at nationals.
"We spent pretty much the whole summer preparing, almost every other weekend we were traveling to a judging event," says Puckett.
The support of their families, the community and adviser Toby Koehn, she said, made the difference.
"We all work for our dads (on the farm) during the summer," explained Murchison. Which meant when they were gone — during the busiest time on the farm — somebody else had to pick up the slack.
Traveling also meant expenses. Families and the Cove community supported every fundraiser they held, DelCurto said.
"And Mr. Koehn drove us all over the place. He even drove us all the way up to OSU and back in one day so we could practice with their livestock judging team," said Murchison.
Is Koehn surprised at the results of the summer's effort?
"No. With the potential they have and the intelligence, I knew there wouldn't be limits to what they could accomplish. The only limit they had was me — I'm their weakest link just because of what I don't know," said Koehn. "They always took the initiative. I'd help get them what they needed to prepare. Then they would take that, study and learn it. I never had to tell them or remind them of anything. They were always prepared."
DelCurto said the real honor was in representing Cove, Oregon, at the national level. The team will never forget walking into the convention center the first time. There are a half-million members in FFA nationwide. More than 50,000 of them were at nationals.
"It was like walking into a sea of blue jackets," said Murchison. "Being part of this kind of organization, and coming from such a small community, it really gave you the big picture."
As a junior, she is the only member of the team who will still be in high school next year. Moore is already a freshman at Oregon State University, and DelCurto and Puckett both graduate in the spring.
"We knew if we were going to do it," Murchison said, "this needed to be the year."