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Ridge Point FFA Students Show Their Skills in Poultry Judging

(L-R) Team Advisor David Laird and the Poultry Judging Team members Abby Knox, Ashley Knox, Alison Nguyen and Leeandra Bobo.

(L-R) Team Advisor David Laird and the Poultry Judging Team members Abby Knox, Ashley Knox, Alison Nguyen and Leeandra Bobo.

The Four Seniors Lead The Way For Upcoming Students With National And Other Championships

By Mara Soloway

Four seniors at Ridge Point High School have accomplished several firsts in this last year of their high school careers. With the guidance of their agricultural sciences teacher and FFA advisor, David Laird, the girls – Leeandra Bobo, Alison Nguyen and twins Ashley Knox and Abby Knox – brought home the school’s first national Poultry Evaluation Championship, which was held in October 2016 in Indianapolis. This accomplishment earned each one a $1,000 college scholarship. At the same event, Alison placed third in the nation with her individual score, Ashley placed fifth, Leeandra sixth and Abby 15th.

And in February, the girls won first place at the San Antonio Livestock Show Poultry Competition, the largest poultry contest in the state. As the announcement of the top ten was being counted down, the girls were on edge. “This was the very last contest for the four of us who won national so we were super excited – we wanted to win as a team,” Leeandra said. It was an emotional moment when the team realized they had won.

The San Antonio event had one more aspect that the girls wanted one of the team to accomplish: the coveted First Place Individual title that came with a $10,000 scholarship. Again, the girls were tense as it got down to the top five and their names hadn’t been called. Then they heard it: second place belonged to Alison – and Leeandra had placed first. Senior Natalie Bassett placed 16th, Abby placed 21st and Ashley 52nd out of 343 contestants.

“When they called my name, it was definitely an emotional moment,” Leeandra said. “Everyone on the team deserved it though. It just came down to who did the best that day. It’s all about the team.”

Each poultry judging contest has multiple components. Event participants must complete a written exam on poultry management, evaluate classes of live birds for eggs and meat production, evaluate quality of eggs, and evaluate and identify parts and products.

David estimates the team has been to 27 contests in the four years they’ve been in FFA. “The win in San Antonio was amazing. With these girls, anyone can place high any day. It’s something for our organization as a whole that we have a complete team. That’s what unique about this group of ladies – all are equally talented; they have strengths in different areas,” he said.

Leeandra, Abby, Ashley and Alison have known each other since elementary school but didn’t develop the close friendship they have now until they each joined FFA in high school. Today’s Future Farmers of America still provides students with agricultural education, but emphasizes career development and the leadership, critical thinking and problem solving skills useful to getting ahead. David said that none of the students in Ridge Point FFA are farmers.

“What we’re looking for is open-minded kids who want to learn. We have something for everybody. Poultry is something we happen to excel at. We also offer ag mechanics where the kids learn how to weld, floral design, and the vet med program that Ashley is interested in that offers an intro to the world of veterinary science.”

Abby learned about the shooting club from her brothers, which piqued her interest. Alison joined FFA because Abby told her about the leadership opportunities on the different teams and the scholarship opportunities. Leandra, who came into high school thinking she’d be a softball player, made a 180-degree turn when she took her first class from David. “I was immediately hooked. I ended up quitting softball because I wanted to put all my time into FFA and all the opportunities, and develop my potential in the organization.”

Ashley is the confirmed animal lover of the group. “I love anything to do with animals. I have chickens at our family farm and horses, cattle, and other animals. All the animals are mine.”

Being that animal lover, she is the only one of the four who is actually fond of the poultry animals they have had to handle to win the competitions. “The hens are nice,” she said, without one word of agreement from the others. Abby stated that she hates them due to their propensity to poop everywhere, including on her. Another reason, she added, is because, “Chickens fly, that’s scary then you have to pick them up and they flap in your face. The big wings hurt.” Alison sees them as a business person would and said, “If I had a preference I probably wouldn’t be around them as much as I am as a poultry judge.”

By this time in their last year in high school, the students and David Laird have mutual admiration for each other. He appreciates their individual differences. “Abby likes to teach people. Alison is super competitive and makes sure everyone is fired up. Ashley and Leandra both make sure everyone is emotionally connected and having fun. Each one is a huge asset to the team,” he said. He also appreciates that they make it fun, such as taking selfies with the chickens.

The girls think he is a great coach and also a personal mentor. “He pushes us to our limits in the best way possible – he makes sure that our potential is reached,” Alison said.

“If we don’t win a contest, he’d rather know that we’re okay. That we have a personal connection as a team and with our coach helps us to be successful,” Leeandra said. “He helps us learn from our mistakes,” Abby added.

Each of the team members will be attending Texas A&M University next fall. All will be able to judge collegiately. “A&M has won the past 24 of 25 college poultry judging. I know they’re eagerly awaiting these four,” said David. Leandra and Ashley are on the path to study poultry science, with Ashley planning on vet school after that. Heading away from poultry are Abby, who wants to study finance and law and become a MUD attorney, and Alison, who plans to get a bachelor’s degree in biology and go to dental school.

The leadership opportunities offered by FFA and the guidance of their advisor have sparked a sense of commitment in the students that will stay with them through college and beyond. Ashley cited gaining confidence in herself and learning how to challenge herself to be better, while Alison said she learned about her strengths and weaknesses and how to use her strengths to her advantage. “I also met a lot of people I never thought I’d be friends with or ever talk to,” she said. Abby feels the leadership skills have helped her be more outgoing than she otherwise would have been and that the poultry competitions have helped her learn to handle pressure better.

Leeandra agreed and added, “I’ve learned that the potential you have goes much farther than you might think. Whenever you stretch your boundaries and do things you’ve never done, you meet people you never thought you’d ever encounter in your life,” she said. “National title or not, I’m going to have the memories I’ve made with this team for the rest of my life.”

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