Perennial national contenders; Success of judging teams built, sustained over time
Every year, four teams on the Texas Tech University campus routinely vie for national championships "" often as one of the favorites "" but rarely compete at home. No big crowds. No bands playing at halftime. No television exposure or big-money contracts. Yet these Texas Tech teams are some of the best and well-respected in the nation.
Team members won't turn pro after their collegiate days are over, at least not in the way most think. They'll put to use what they learn through classes and competitions in their professional lives, but there are no endorsement deals or big contracts to sign.
And if rankings existed, Texas Tech's four judging teams would likely be in the top five most seasons, start to finish. Maybe it's because they've won a combined 29 national championships, including 21 since 2000. In fact, Texas Tech is one of only a handful of schools to win meat and livestock national championships in the same year three times (2008-2009, 2011), a feat matched only by Iowa State (1927, 1955-56), Oklahoma State (1948, 1954, 1961) and Texas A&M (1987, 2004, 2006).
Once again, Tech is considered the team to beat in both competitions. "I'd say our judging program is evolving into one that everybody has to put on the list when they say, 'If we're going to win this contest, who do we have to beat?'" said Mark Miller, a professor of animal and food sciences in the College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and the coach of Texas Tech's meat judging and meat science quiz bowl teams.
Since 1989, the meat judging team has captured 11 national championships, including a six-year stretch when it won five national titles from 2008 through 2013. Miller said the one team that finished second in 2010 might have been his best team ever.
Loni Woolley, a graduate research assistant at Texas Tech who will earn her master's degree in animal science in December, was a member of that 2010 team, helped coach the 2013 national championship team and currently serves as assistant coach. She said the 2010 team had a passion for meat judging, which allowed the squad to win all six competitions it entered leading up to the national championship.
"We knew how to be humble as well," said Woolley, who holds a bachelor's degree in animal science from Texas Tech. "I saw about half the team at homecoming and we're all like a big family and we just love each other. A few of us came from judging backgrounds at talented schools and some of us came from no judging background. We just had a good group that year."
The meat science quiz bowl team is the most recent national champion, winning the title in 2014. The team has won seven national championships since 2003. "The three things we really focus on is pursuit of excellence, that's No. 1," Miller said. "The second thing is we try to make sure our students and all our people, as far as staff and faculty members, do it with honor. Striving for honor is really important to us. The last thing is serving unselfishly."
The only judging team that can match meat judging's record of success is the livestock judging team. In fact, both the livestock judging team and the livestock and meat animal evaluation team captured national championships in 2007, 2008 and 2009, with each adding another one since.
The livestock team's success almost was instantaneous. Ryan Rathmann took over as coach in 2007 and led them to the national championship that year, though it was a struggle. Rathmann said the livestock judging team competed at 11 events in 2007 and lost every one of them until they reached the national championship.
"That was a challenge that year working with students who didn't have a taste of what it felt like to win," Rathmann said. "They didn't know how much fire they needed to work with to see their goal come to fruition. But the whole time they were getting better and better and better. By the end, they were totally bought in and they actually dominated the national championship contest."
Written by George Watson
CONTACT: Michael Orth, chairman, Department of Animal and Food Sciences, Texas Tech University at (806) 742-2805 or firstname.lastname@example.org
1112NM14 / Editor's Note: For full text of story and video report, go to http://today.ttu.edu/2014/11/success-of-judging-teams-built-sustained-over-time/
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