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Worthington FFA meats judging team competes at nationals

The team placed 8th overall and senior Emmett Bickett earned 13th overall individual.

FFA team 2019
The Worthington FFA meats judging team competed at the national contest this week. Team and coaches are Sarah Jacobs (left), Kole Spartz, Sophie Wietzema, Emmett Bickett, Kyle Mullaney and Randy Jacobs. (Submitted photo)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — After winning at the Minnesota state level, the Worthington FFA meats judging team brought its skills to the national stage this week at the National FFA Convention / Judging Contest, hosted this year in Indianapolis.

Although the team encountered some new challenges — nationals includes a written exam and a team evaluation, which are not part of Minnesota's state competition — they held their own thanks to hours of study and practice. The team placed eighth overall.

"It was a lot different than judging at state and regionals," WHS senior Emmett Bickett said. There was a new focus, he noted, on "applying the meats to the real world" — for example, the written exam covered food safety, hormone use and criteria for natural and organic labeling.

Senior Kyle Mullaney explained that nationals was "a crazy experience — a totally different level from state. We knew that everyone that was here was here to compete."

Mullaney said he was not intimidated by the stiff competition; he enjoyed the extra challenge.

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The team agreed that preparing for nationals brought them closer together.

"We've hung out a lot as a meats team, and I liked that," junior Sophie Wietzema said.

The team has spent the season meeting on Sunday afternoons at the home of coach Randy Jacobs to practice together. When they found out they qualified for nationals, they added more practices throughout the week, including visits to Walmart to evaluate real, available-for-purchase cuts of meat.

Because of their persistence, "we worked as a team well" this week, Wietzema noted.

"We've got a really fun group of team members," Bickett said. The 10-hour road trip created built-in bonding time, he added.

Senior Kole Spartz got a different perspective from the rest of the team, as he didn't get to compete. The contest only allows for teams of three, so although Spartz did all the same preparation as his peers, he went to nationals as an alternate.

"It was good to watch my team do well," Spartz said. "A lot of learning happened."

Spartz added that in watching his team in comparison to others, he could see that they were among the upper teams at the competition.

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The students weren't the only people who worked hard for their spot at nationals.

"We've got two of the best coaches around," Bickett said. "They are dedicated and go out of their way to make sure we succeed."

Those coaches are Randy and Sarah Jacobs, a father-daughter team from Rushmore.

Sarah Jacobs has been coaching with her dad since 2010. She recently took a job in Brookings, S.D., so after this season, she will cut back her coaching to competitions and special occasions.

"Then they went and won state," she said. Seeing her team go to nationals "was one of those experiences you're never going to forget," she added.

Sarah said that the teens put in a lot of hard work to make it so far. Meats judging is not easy, and it takes a lot of practice to fine tune the needed skills.

"They've been a fun bunch to work with," Randy Jacobs added, noting that while all the team members live in Worthington, not one of them missed a single Sunday practice at his home in Rushmore. They showed that they were willing to put time into getting good at judging meats.

"It's been a stellar experience watching them compete," Sarah concluded.

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Individually, each team member earned a medal. Bickett was 13th overall with a gold medal; Mullaney was 20th overall with a gold medal; and Wietzema was 63rd overall with a silver medal.

Related Topics: AGRICULTURE
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