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A breed apart

The parents of Brie Britton, Charise McFarland, Victoria Ralls and Alisha Shurr probably didn't foresee that their daughters would corral recognition and full-ride college scholarships for sizing up bodies for their meat.

But that's exactly what the four Crater High School seniors did this fall to win second place in the nation for livestock judging and to garner multiple college scholarship offers for next year.

Crater's all-female FFA Livestock Judging Team has ranked first in the state for livestock judging for two consecutive years and placed second in the nation for livestock judging at the 83rd annual National FFA Convention on Oct. 23 in Indianapolis. Kingfisher High School in Oklahoma won first place.

At the national competition, the four girls each sized up a total of about 44 animals, including cattle, swine, goats and sheep, and ranked them for appearance, body structure and muscle and fat content. They were expected to give 90-second oral reasons for their choices. Then, their scorecards were compared with the scorecards of expert judges. Scorecards that matched the judges' scorecards earned points. They placed second out of a total of 44 teams.

The team won dibs on the national competition after remaining undefeated in 12 county-level competitions during the summer and the state competition Sept. 1 at the Oregon State Fair in Salem.

The same four girls won state the previous year but chose not to attend nationals as juniors. Once a team competes in nationals, it can't compete again, said Crater agriculture teacher Jesse Warntjes. Victoria said that as seniors, team members felt they would have more experience and a better chance at winning the national title.

Luckily, the team won state again this year, earning its spot at nationals. In preparation, the team visited livestock farms around Oregon and California, particularly to see swine, which are not common in Oregon.

They also studied a 900-page animal science book to enhance their performance on a written test, which they had to take as part of their points in the national competition. The girls met at 7 a.m. five days a week to study and practice judging.

"We never knew what was going to be on the test," Warntjes said. "There are 25 chapters in the book, and 50 questions on the test."

As the reserve national champion, they have qualified to attend the international competition at the end of June in Scotland, Belgium, England and Germany. First, they have to obtain permission from the Central Point School Board. Then, they will need to raise about $25,000 for travel expenses, Warntjes said.

The four girls are already considering college scholarship offers for livestock judging. Brie and Victoria are headed to Redlands Community College in El Reno, Okla., with hopes of becoming veterinarians, while Alisha and Charise are still deciding where to go and what to study.

The skills they've gained from livestock judging will serve them throughout college and their careers, Charise said.

Crater has a growing history of FFA national championships. When Warntjes attended Crater as a student, his livestock judging team won the national title in 1999. Crater's livestock judging team also won nationals in 1995, 2000, 2001 and 2005.

He said he is carrying on the tradition started by his agriculture teacher, John Dimick, who emphasized the livestock judging team over other FFA competitions.

"That's why we have a leg up because we have an inspirational coach," Victoria said.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.

Crater High School students, from left, Charise McFarland, Alisha Shurr, Victoria Ralls and Brie Britton won second place in the nation for livestock judging. - Bob Pennell