4-H competition rewards efforts

by John Villalba

A late, great judging coach and friend of mine once told me, “John, you as a 4-H agent, have to do everything possible to ensure that competition is never phased out of the 4-H program. You always must make sure that the torch of competition is never put out.”

What Mr. Jerry Hawkins told me that day will always stay with me. To those of you who knew, judged for, or showed to Mr. Hawkins, you will always remember something special about him. We all have wonderful memories that mean so much in different ways to each of us.

But, in his honor, I would like to touch upon a subject that comes under scrutiny from time to time. That subject is competition.

Competition is what I believe to be the greatest motivator in the world. It is what has driven Americans to be the best they can at everything.

It is what makes Friday nights in the fall so fun. It is what allows the best person to get the job.

So, my question is, how can competition be so bad? I know and understand that everyone has their own opinion regarding competition, so here is mine.

I began in 4-H as a youngster in a rural/town type of setting. I loved all animals and always wanted to be able to take my projects to the fair. I didn’t have my own place to keep my pigs, so I rented pens from a local farmer. I would go every morning and afternoon to take care of those pigs.

Now, in the town I grew up in, there were about 200 head of pigs that would go to the show. We would have a local show, then a county show, and lastly go to San Antonio.

So, really a kid had two chances at making the premium sale before going to the major show. Of all of the years that I showed pigs, I never wrote a thank you note for making the sale. That’s because I never made the sale.

I have often wondered what I could have done to change that statistic. Maybe, my pigs weren’t good enough. Maybe I didn’t feed them right. Maybe, I, I…. Just a whole bunch of maybes.

I guess the first year of not making the sale, I thought making the sale meant, going through the gate and onto the truck destined for the sale barn. I mean, heck, I was glad to get a check for market price from the Lubbock County Fair Board.

After those first couple of years, that was the mindset I had. Then one year, I witnessed the real sale and saw the purple banners. And, I wanted that. So, I promised myself that I was going to do everything I could from then on to learn as much as I could so I could get there. Well, I never got there. But, I still had that drive to learn as much as possible so someday my kids could have that opportunity!

You’re probably wondering how that story has affected my views towards competitiveness. Well, it lit the torch. I just wanted to be able to compete.

From this experience, I went to shows, learned how to evaluate, studied magazines, talked with breeders, picked apart sorry, good, and great hogs, and even went out and judged a few shows.

I knew that everything I was doing was going to create an experience for a kid that they would never forget. I even continue to learn new things everyday, because there will never be a day that any of us stop learning.

I think many people forget what competition means to them. The neat thing about competition is that it means something different to each of us, and that’s what makes it so interesting.

People who win do it because they work at it. They do their homework, so to speak, when others are not. They take it serious, but also know that they are doing it to have fun.

So, if you have a bad taste in your mouth about winners, do what I did — light a torch. If it means that much to you, totally immerse yourself in it as well as you can.

Also, one last note. We should be praising all competitors on a job well done, not giving every one of them a blue ribbon.

How can we continue to foster positive growth if they aren’t competing for something? So my point being, competition, if done with learning and sportsmanship in mind, should always be an integral part of any youth development program.

To Mr. Hawkins: Thanks for reminding me to keep my torch lit.

John Villalba is the 4-H agent for the Quay County Extension Office.