South Dakota 4-H shines on national level |

South Dakota 4-H shines on national level

The Meade County 4-H Range Judging team captured the national championship at the National Land and Range Judging Contest May 1-3 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The students, from left, are Danika Gordon, Randi Tivis, Hunter Eide, and Ryan Wilen. Photo courtesy of Meade County 4-H

Four South Dakota 4-H teams traveled to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, May 1 to 3 for the 67th annual National Land and Range Judging Contest hosted by the Oklahoma Association of Conservation Districts. Southern Clark, Meade County, Wessington Springs, and McCook County competed among students from 30 states, bringing home three national titles between two teams.

The Meade County 4-H team, coached by Sturgis FFA Alumni President Brett Monson, captured the national championship title in the National 4-H Range Judging competition. Team members placed individually, accumulating points for the national win. Ryan Wilen placed first and received the individual range judging championship honor; Randi Tivis placed fifth; Danika Gordon, eighth; and Hunter Eide, ninth of 23 students.

“We were extremely proud to have them represent Meade County 4-H,” said Jenny Voight, Meade County 4-H Youth Program Advisor. “They set their goals to win and were studying morning, noon, and night. They ended up winning by more than 100 points, which is pretty amazing at that level. I knew they were going to do good, but we were pretty overwhelmed at how well they did.”

Wilen, a senior, has expressed interest in making rangeland ecology a career. His other consideration is wildlife management. “He said for the first time when we were down there, that he is interested in rangeland for a major,” Monson said. “Wildlife is more saturated, and there are more opportunities in rangeland.”

The Wessington Springs team trailed Meade County by 101 points, making them reserve champions in Range Judging. Coached by Craig Shryock, Wessington Springs Agricultural Education Instructor, and Lance Howe, Natural Resources Conservation Services Soil Scientist, Logan Wolter placed third, Dalton Howe fourth, Rylie Stevens sixth, and Coy Fastnacht placed 11th.

South Dakota students filled eight of the top 11 places in 4-H range judging.

Range judging requires students to consider how well a small representation of an acreage would accommodate cattle, whether a certain number of pairs or yearlings per sé or bobwhite quail, based on available grasses and plants.

“They have to become experts on different types of range plants, grass, legumes, or forbes,” Monson said. “In the first part of the contests, they have to correctly identify plants and have to know a lot about their characteristics, whether they are warm-season, or cool-season, a good cover crop, invasive or native, and desirable for beef cattle or grouse.”

While the environment in South Dakota and Oklahoma aren’t vastly different, enough varieties exist that requires students to study the grasses more readily found in Oklahoma versus their home state. For instance, there are typically two varieties of Blue Stem in South Dakota, whereas there are five varieties of the same grass in Oklahoma.

Wessington Springs’ second place finish is a large feat, but their first place national title in homesite evaluation is far greater. The four-student team played the average game—all placing high enough of the 47 total students competing—to win the championship.

Landon Wolter and Keah Munsen, both of Wessington Springs, tied with a student from Indiana for fourth, fifth, and sixth. Isaac Kolousek placed 10th, and Chandler Flowers tied for 11th and 12th.

“This team worked very hard before going and while in Oklahoma City,” Shryok said. “Three of the four were on the reserve national champion team in Land Judging in 4-H last year and had set a goal of winning homesite this year. They are the first team from South Dakota to win a championship in Homesite Evaluation. To my knowledge, no club has had two teams place this high in two different areas in the same year.”

Homesite Evaluation requires students to consider how fitting a particular area would be for building, accommodating not only structures, but also lawns, landscaping, septic systems, and sewage lagoons. “Homesite Evaluation is similar to Land Judging in that the students texture soil, calculate slope, erosion, soil depth, permeability, and other factors,” Shryock said.

Individually, Katelyn Wimber brought home the National 4-H Homesite Evaluation championship to McCook Central. Her team placed seventh overall.

Hyde County’s Mark Hague tied for eighth among the 47 competing and Trenton Ramsey tied for 13th, earning the team a placing of fourth overall. Five South Dakota students consumed half the top-ten places in Homesite Evaluation. The Clark County 4-H team placed 12th.

Teams qualified at local competitions in order to compete at the national level, and while in Oklahoma, students visited local practice sites and absorbed information from range and soil experts. The contest site was released the morning of, lending a fair playing field to all competing.

Several South Dakota FFA teams competed nationally as well. The Kadoka FFA team placed 14th in Range Judging, Hitchcock-Tulare placed 15th in the same competition, and Webster 18th.

The Highmore FFA team placed 23rd in Land Judging, Lennox Sundstrom placed 32nd, Willow Lake 53rd, McCook Central 66th, and Sturgis 84th.

In Homesite Judging, McCook Central’s team landed 18th, Lennox Sundstrom 34th, and Sturgis 45th.

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