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23 Aug 2009 - 4-H & FFA members aren't quitters

A few days ago I attended the Illinois State Fair, and for the 49th year, served as M.C. for the Governor's Auction of Grand Champions. These are the grand champion animals that have been fitted and groomed and taken into the show ring by 4-H and FFA members. Every year I come away with an even stronger feeling that one of the great products that come off America's farms and ranches, perhaps the greatest product, are the kids, the young people. This year's champion exhibitors ranged in age from 13 to 18.

I had a delightful visit with 18-year-old Addie Gerard, exhibitor of the Grand Champion steer. I talked to her at the end of the sale, after she had come down from the clouds when she realized her steer sold for $30,100 to McDonald's Corporation. She told me about the steer she named Apollo and said the first time she saw him in the pasture, she decided he would be her 4-H/FFA project. She soon discovered that Apollo had other ideas.

Addie said the next six months were pure misery because the steer refused to be led anywhere. She had more scrapes and bruises because, instead of being led, Apollo was dragging her around the barnyard and pasture. At one point she even tied the steer to a 4-wheeler in an attempt to train him to lead but that didn't work either. She was about ready to give up, when she and her brother made one more try and it worked. She said "You know, I was so close to quitting, but I never quit." No, 4-H and FFA kids don't quit; they keep on working until they get the job done and in this case, her persistence took Addie and Apollo to the Grand Championship.

But I did take issue with the mother of one exhibitor whose steer finished second in his class who said her child was crushed because he didn't get the purple ribbon. She questioned whether we should still have champions and blue ribbons, saying those who don't win are emotionally distraught and it damages their psyche and it would be better if everybody in the ring was declared a winner. I've heard this before and I totally disagree with the idea.

I can say that based on personal experience because as a state finalist in the Wisconsin FFA Public Speaking Contest many years ago, I was well-prepared and just knew I was going to win. But I didn't, I came in fourth out of five and yes, I was very disappointed. But my FFA Advisor and I immediately went to work figuring out what I could have done better and I learned more from that losing experience than I probably would have had I won. It led me to a career I have enjoyed for 57 years.

So, let's keep on having champions, as well as also-rans who learn from the experience.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.