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Jackson County 4-H teams excel at national event in Denver

Coach Lisa Fest (far right) stands with members of the Jackson County 4-H Consumer Decision Making team at the Western National Roundup last week in Denver, Colo. Team members Jessica Christoffer (from left), Rachel Salentiny, Morgan Ignaszewski and Abi Fest garnered first place in the national contest. Photo courtesy Mattias Lindgren 1 / 2
Members of the Jackson County 4-H Livestock judging team that competed in the Western national Roundup are Josh Ulbricht (from left), Riley Johnson, Bailey Schneekloth and Gavin Mulder. The team placed sixth overall at the National Western Stock Show last week in Denver, Colo. Photo courtesy Adam Warren 2 / 2

JACKSON — Two teams of 4-H’ers from Jackson County brought home hardware after competing in the 96th annual Western National Roundup during the National Western Stock Show this past weekend in Denver, Colo.

The Family and Consumer Science Consumer Decision Making team, consisting of Jessica Christoffer, Abi Fest, Morgan Ignaszewski and Rachel Salentiny, walked away with a first-place overall finish. They competed against 11 teams from across the country.

Meanwhile, the Livestock Judging team of Riley Johnson, Gavin Mulder, Bailey Schneekloth and Josh Ulbricht garnered sixth place of 27 teams in that competition. The annual roundup was Jan. 7-10.

For members of the consumer decision making team, the trip to the Western National Roundup was the result of their second-place finish in the Minnesota State Fair contest last August. When the first-place team, from Cottonwood County, opted in October not to compete at the national event, Jackson County was given the option to go.

Christoffer, a sophomore at Jackson County Central, has been a part of Jackson County 4-H’s consumer decision making team for five years, along with fellow sophomores Salentiny and Fest, both of whom attend Heron Lake-Okabena High School. Ignaszewski, a freshman at JCC, just joined the team this past year.

The team is coached by Lisa Fest, a 4-H volunteer who competed in consumer decision making while she was in the youth organization. She has coached the team for the past five years, and this was the second time she’s led a team to the national contest, taking a team in 2014.

Prior to leaving for Colorado Jan. 6, Christoffer said team members had to raise funds for the trip. They hosted fundraisers during basketball games at HL-O and also applied for grants.

The team competed in a Skill-A-Thon Friday and then endured a six-hour contest Saturday that included a team event, two classes of oral reasons and four consumer choice categories.

The categories required the team members to rank from best value to worst value products ranging from headphones to fast food and luggage. Oral reasons contest categories were jeans and electronic tablets.

“For everyone on the team, the class we didn’t do the best on was the headphones class,” Christoffer said, adding that the oral reasons classes seemed to be the easiest.

Giving oral reasons was something the team concentrated on during practice sessions. They met once per week, for a few hours at a time, leading up to the trip to Denver.

For Christoffer, the trip meant competing on a much larger scale than she’s ever experienced.

“It was just fun to meet people,” she said. In addition to the contest, the group toured Mile High Stadium, a candy factory and saw other sites while in the Denver area.

“It was a really fun time and we learned a lot, too,” Christoffer said.

An awards ceremony was conducted Sunday morning, and Christoffer said results were announced in each judging category. The Jackson County team garnered third place in placings, third in oral reasons and second in the group process. Individually, Christoffer earned fifth in oral reasons, and Salentiny placed fourth in oral reasons and third overall.

Based on those results, neither Christoffer or Coach Fest were sure they’d reach their goal of a Top Five finish.

“We weren’t in the top four,” Christoffer said of the way teams were recognized. “We were a little concerned, and the team that was doing good got second. We wondered who could beat them.

“When they announced us, it was pure shock,” she added. “I didn’t expect to get first place.”

“I was a crying mess,” added Coach Fest. “I was so excited for them. They worked hard.”

Because of their appearance in the national event, the team members won’t be allowed to participate on a consumer decision making team again.

Both Christoffer and Fest are concerned the judging contest will be eliminated in Minnesota because of low participation.

Fest, along with Cottonwood County 4-H Program Coordinator Crystal Reith, have been instrumental in keeping the program going in southwest Minnesota.

“We’re hoping the state would at least allow a regional event as a qualifier for a national event,” Fest said. “It’s such a great experience for kids. I hate to have kids miss out on that opportunity. The memories and the experience are well worth it.”

“It’s been such a good experience for all of us and we’ve learned a ton,” added Christoffer.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at farmbleat.areavoices.com.

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