Our Week in the Holyland

It’s true. We really went.

Any Aggie Catholic you talk to will almost always refer to Aggieland as the Holyland. Brilliant, isn’t it?

Texas 4-H hosts its week-long state competition at Texas A&M every June and about 4,000 teenagers descend upon campus. It’s a beautiful sight. Loud, but awesome.

For many of the competitions you have to qualify, meaning you had to win a county and district competition to earn your right to compete. Others are invitational, meaning anyone can compete. Will qualified for three and John Paul chose to do an invitational event. Man, did they keep me hopping.

Two of Will’s events were with a team and even though not all those kids are mine, I sure do love them like they are. These are the kind of people I want my kids around: funny, faithful, ambitious, focused and compassionate. Their parents aren’t half bad either!

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First up? Leaders 4 Life. The contest develops leaders through service learning and parliamentary procedure. I know. When I first read that, I was like, “Do kids even get stoked about parli pro?” Answer: yes. They are given a scenario with a skeleton agenda and a short prep time and then have 20 minutes to conduct the meeting. Not only do they have to know how to run a meeting using Robert’s Rules of Order, they must show mastery in execution and knowledge. In addition, every team must come up with, and implement, a service project and explain it to the panel of judges. Our team chose “Fans for 4-H” where they solicited funds for box fans and then worked with the St. Vincent de Paul Society to distribute them to families in need here in Central Texas. The score sheet alone┬áhad me impressed. This competition also carries the potential of representing Texas at the national competition (not all go contests go beyond state). To say that I am immensely proud of their 6th place finish is an understatement. They were a young team, both in age and practice (we only began two months before the competition) and competed against many veteran teams. They tell us they’re ready to take state next year and head to nationals.

I believe them.

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Consumer decision making is my kind of contest. Shopping! Except it’s way more than that. The teams have eight “classes” of products, ranging from cameras to nutritious snacks to outdoor camping equipment, that they must place in order of best to worst based on the scenario they’re given. Then, the teens are asked to give oral reasons in two minutes or less about two classes in front of a panel of judges. It’s intense. We practiced for months. With nearly 175 kids participating, we were THRILLED to get fourth place in reasons at state. Again, super young team so we have many years ahead of us and that’s so exciting.

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The biggie for Will was the state food show. It’s the flagship contest for State Roundup and, along with Livestock Judging, the oldest running contest at Roundup. About 25 years ago I competed in the same contest, same category as Will! Participants must prepare their dish in a supervised kitchen with no help. Then, they present the prepared, garnished dish to a panel of judges, deliver a three-minute presentation (including food safety, food pyramid, preparation steps, nutrition information and project experiences) and answer five minutes of questions. Y’all, I was sweating some serious bullets in the waiting area. Will placed third in his category and I *may* have been the mom tearing up in the stands. I know he really wanted first – don’t we all – but he pulled off a top three finish his very first year. This mom could not be more proud of his effort. Oh, and if you want the recipe, here ya go. It’s delicious. Too bad I can’t send the chef along with it!

John Paul’s invitational event was photography judging. It’s similar to consumer decision making in that contestants are given eight classes of photos (animals, macro, dominant color, etc.) and they must judge them from best to worst. No oral reasons in this one, thankfully. For the third year in a row, our intermediate team walked away with first place. He and I also swung over to the Ag Product ID class to learn a little bit more about that contest.

My biggest takeaway was just HOW MUCH there is to do in 4-H. Even for the city kids.

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While Will was off competing and living it up, John Paul and I did our own fair share. We rolled through Sonic for a few happy hours, enjoyed some sweet tea and some precious time together. That doesn’t happen often in our house, a mama with her two oldest boys for nearly a week. It was a great gift and it reminded me just how funny teenagers can be. They’re work, but boy are they hilarious. And a huge shout out to the Shannon’s for hosting us all week. Y’all were fantastic.

We’re already planning for Roundup 2017.

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