Students in the Moffat County High School agriculture education program are strongly encouraged to participate in FFA -- an extra-curricular program that takes classroom learning into the real world.
Junior Shawn Brookshire said he doesn't consider it a hardship.
For Brookshire, participation is one more way he can prepare to run a ranch as an adult, he said.
Students who participate do so for a variety of reasons -- the camaraderie, the leadership training, hands-on agricultural experience or a line on a resume.
Ten of the program's 25 participants returned Oct. 29 from a national event in Louisville, Ky., where the program's focus was evident.
"Just seeing 53,000 other kids in blue corduroy jackets instead of thinking we're the only town that wears them was worth it," Brookshire said.
Program members are given the opportunity to travel to national competition every two years, regardless of whether the team has earned the chance to compete. Two years ago, a four-member meat-carcass judging team took first place at the state competition, making it eligible to compete at nationals.
This year, the team took second place, making it eligible for the Reserve National Competition in January.
Moffat County's team finished about 100 points away from the winning team -- a narrow margin when more than 600 points are at stake, program adviser Rick Murr said.
"That's a huge accomplishment that as a team we were that close to first," he said.
Only first-place teams win a national berth.
"I'm glad I didn't have to compete because there would be a lot of pressure representing the whole state at nationals," junior Rance Moon said.
Paying their way
Still, all team members had the opportunity to go to nationals to take advantage of leadership training, workshops and the advice of motivational speakers.
But they had to pay their way.
The 10 members who chose to go spent the summer and fall raising money for the trip.
Murr estimates it cost each member $600.
The team sponsored a trail ride poker run, raffled a pig, a lamb and a 10-foot utility trailer made by last year's class. The group also served food for formal events such as weddings to raise the money. And they cooked and served food at the annual Farm Bureau dinner.
"I don't think they incurred very much out-of-pocket expense for the trip," Murr said.
Members didn't spend their entire five-day trip in auditoriums. They toured the racetracks at Churchill Downs, visited museums and stopped by the Kentucky Horse Park.
"They got to see that whole equine history there," Murr said.
Brookshire said touring a tobacco plant was one of his most memorable experiences.
The agricultural education program provides a practical approach to learning through classroom education, hands-on supervised agricultural career experience and extra-curricular activities.
"Hopefully students are taking what they learn in class and putting it to real-world use," Murr said.
Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or firstname.lastname@example.org.