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Norton swaggers to FFA win

By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN

dobrien@dailynews.net

There were several students wearing T-shirts that read, "You can't spell swag without ag," Thursday at the Fort Hays State University Pavilion.

Norton Community High School definitely put the swag in agriculture judging, placing four in the top 10 en route to claiming first place in the Northwest District FFA dairy judging contest.

Norton, which actually grabbed the top two spots as well as No. 5, scored 1,105 total points.

"This is a pretty good contest for us," said Garrett Beydler, in his 29th year of teaching agriculture classes at Norton. "And this is a group that works pretty hard."

Hays High School, led by senior Mesa Eckroat's fourth-place individual finish, placed third as a team, just two points behind Downs-Lakeside, which outscored HHS 1,069 to 1,051.

The tally for individual honors was even closer.

Norton senior Wyatt Wentz scored six more points than junior teammate Kolton Harding (375-369), finishing just three points in front of Lakeside junior Anna Spooner. Eckroat was just two points in back of Spooner, and just 11 points separated Spooner from the rest of the top 10 field.

The greenhand division for first-year FFA members also was highly competitive, with Ellis edging Stockton out of first-place team honors by one point (1,045 to 1,044). It was the second district title for Ellis greenhands this year, who also won their division of the land and homesite judging contest in Russell earlier this fall.

Logan freshman Regan Kats was the individual greenhand champion with 362 points, just two in front of Ellis freshman Dylan Haas.

Kats' finish helped Logan place third in team standings.

Stockton was led by freshman Allison Dix's third-place total of 354 points.

More than 200 students from 17 different schools participated in the eventin which students evaluated FHSU dairy cattle in six different categories, separated into pens of four each.

Ellis FFA sponsor Robert Kohman said the area schools welcome the chance to come to Hays to judge the FHSU dairy cattle because there are so few smaller dairy farms anymore.

"These are great," Kohman said. "I know that at least one of my kids saw his first cow today."

Students are judged not only on the evaluation of the cows, but also their ability to give impromptu reasons for why they ranked them like they did.

For some, that comes easier than others.

"I've been talking in front of people since I was 7, when I started 4-H," said Eckroat, daughter of FHSU herdsman Stephanie Eckroat.

"I like people to know my opinions, so I don't get nervous," continued Mesa Eckroat, who admitted a good public speaker isn't born overnight. "Like anything, it just takes a lot of practice and you eventually get comfortable with it."