The power of three: LaBree twins and little sis excel in sports, ranch work, FFA and more
It only takes a few minutes of visiting with the LaBree girls to recognize everything that is good about ag kids, small town schools and rural America.
Identical twins Heather and Hannah, 18, and their little sister, Heidi, 14, hail from Southeastern Montana in an area so remote that their 45-minute drive to “town” takes them to Ekalaka, which – until they paved the other highway going south a few years ago – proudly claimed you could drive into town but you had to back out. The twins have for the most part lived parallel lives typical to many other kids in the area: 4-H members. Livestock showmen. Rodeo competitors. FFA officers. Sports standouts. School leaders. Primary “hired men” working cattle and sheep for their parents and both sets of grandparents. Little sis provides the third support leg, following in the footsteps – but far from the shadows – of the twins.
The LaBrees are tremendous examples of a combination of hard work ethics, natural talent, great parenting and a lot of dirt under the fingernails.
Last summer the small town successes of the older girls launched them to recognition on a world stage as they earned slots with Student Athlete World USA, an international competitive sports tour group, to visit Austria and Italy and play on the women’s basketball team against European teams. At the end of their trip they were recognized as Co-Athletes of the year by the organization.
“I don’t really know why we got the award,” Heather says, humbly. But anyone who knows the girls recognizes they fulfill the description of sportswomen who demonstrate athletic success, appreciation of other cultures, strong patriotism, leave a positive impression of Americans, and exhibit leadership among teammates and coaches. Their ag backgrounds not only taught them the tenacity they displayed on the court, but their 4-H market livestock projects funded their trip.
Seth Whitney is the ag teacher and FFA advisor at Carter County (Ekalaka) High School. He says, “These girls are probably some of the most hardworking individuals I know – it doesn’t matter what they do, whether it’s on the court with basketball or volleyball or FFA, they put 110 percent into everything they do.”
Like many other small towns – the Ekalaka high school is in the double digits. Grades 9-12 claim a total of 42 students – it takes all hands on deck to fill the teams and the clubs and the band chairs. The LaBree girls do their fair share. Heather and Hannah have been playing basketball since they were in second grade, and were on traveling teams by fifth grade. This year Heidi took her basketball experience and joined them on the varsity court, proving the genetics and family ties run deep. All three play volleyball as well, are in student council and band, and are officers of their FFA chapter. Heather is president, Hannah is vice president and Heidi is reporter, and they are on numerous competitive FFA teams. They are also very involved in 4-H, the twins are 10-year members, taking market and breeding livestock, sheep, horses, sewing, leatherwork and other “indoor projects.”
“Most things come easy to them, whether studying for a contest or playing sports,” says Whitney of the twins. “But their true leadership comes in their ability to train younger students to step up, and their ability to recognize when to step back and let the strengths of others shine as well.”
Both girls plan to run for a Montana FFA Association state office in the spring. Whitney says he is very optimistic that they will do well, along with two other senior girls from Ekalaka who plan to run. “Any of the four of these girls will make a great state FFA officer,” says Whitney.
Whitney says he can’t say enough good about the LaBrees – but there is one small problem he has with them. “I still can’t tell them apart. In wood shop when one asks me questions about her project, I have to stall for a bit until I figure out what she is building. The other day they got mad at me and said, ‘Mr. Whitney, it’s not like you haven’t been our teacher for five years!’”
Despite two of them being mirror images, the girls say they each have their niche, especially in sports, but cover and support each other when needed. They agree Hannah is good at defense, Heather shines at offense and Heidi is great at seeing the floor.
Being the youngest doesn’t faze Heidi in the least. “It’s pretty awesome to have them as sisters. I don’t only have one sister to look up to, I have two. They have always pushed me to be better, and most of the time we get along. Well … we’ve never been in a fist fight anyway.”
Heather says, “We all have a lot of the same likes and similarities and the same goals – that helps us click.” She adds with a laugh, “It can also cause a little bit of competition sometimes.”
Heidi pitches in: “It’s usually me, the younger sister, trying to beat the older two.”
When asked who the boss is, Hannah offers, “Usually a different one of us kind of naturally becomes the boss for the situation, depending on what we’re doing.”
“No. Heidi never gets to be the boss,” chimes in Heidi.
“But you’ll miss us when we’re gone,” one of the twins offers. “Because you’ll have to do more chores,” the other twin adds.
“Yeah, but I’m taking your room – it’s bigger,” says Heidi.
For the time being, the twins’ room is not up for grabs as they soak up their senior year and consider future plans. Hannah wants to pursue a degree in animal science with her sights set on vet school. She hasn’t ruled out the possibility of college basketball, but says a state FFA office could change that. Heather is considering a career in a medical field, possibly physical therapy or athletic training, but says she’s very open to a future in the ag industry as well.
In spite of their distance from almost all the other people in Montana, the girls have friends across the state and value opportunities to make new ones. “We love going to conventions, hanging out with friends we don’t get to see often,” says Heather. “We’re not afraid to go talk with people – the people part and learning to work with a team is the best part.”
The twins say the downfall to their busy schedules is it doesn’t leave as much time for their true love – being at the ranch. Hannah says she loves working with her 4-H animals in her free time and branding and haying season are her favorite times of the year. Heather says she enjoys branding and also weaning time, as they both have a passion for livestock judging and have fun evaluating the calf crop, discussing which ones they should keep and cull.
It’s likely the LaBree girls will continue to keep busy schedules as they spread their wings and take their talents into the world. But their love of family, animals and their ranch life will be the deep roots keeping them, and all country kids, grounded – no matter where they are. F