Opinion: What Is the Point of 4-H and FFA?

Did we miss something while trying to win in the showring?

December 2, 2011

3 Min Read
Opinion: What Is the Point of 4-H and FFA?

As I travel along in my life journey, one of the most rewarding and enjoyable aspects is being able to have a significant influence and promote positive change in youth livestock programs. This isn't always an easy or a popular task.

While guest lecturing this spring at Palo Alto College in San Antonio, I asked the students, "Regardless of whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, how do you know what you stand for?" The answer I was looking for was, "By knowing what the opposition stands for." If you call yourself a Democrat, how do you know you're not a Republican? You know that by studying Republican beliefs and deciding whether or not they fit into the beliefs for which you stand.

Expanding that idea, it's reasonable to state that in order to avoid mistakes, we must learn what mistakes have a possibility of occurring. Where do you put this on your list of priorities in terms of your children's success in their extracurricular activities? Depending on when I ask you this question, your answer might surprise you.

First, respond to this question as if it was put to you when your child was eight years old and just getting ready to enter 4-H. What are your reasons for pursuing the activity? Have you dreamed of a child who had the best steer, pig, lamb or goat in your county or state? Perhaps, but I would guess the majority simply wanted happy and healthy children, with winning being secondary. Then again, we've all at times lost sight of what's truly important.

Now, let's fast forward – your child has graduated from college, about to be married or even have their first child. Would you cite the same reasons at this juncture for having your child show an animal as you did before they began?

Did your child's winning a major make them a better person in adulthood? Do you wish you could go back in time to say to your family upon arriving at one of the many shows you attended, "Today, winning won't be our number-one priority."

I am almost 30 years old now. I started showing when I was about 10. I have had a great deal of success, including numerous grand champions and showmanship trophies. You may think that's something most people only wish to achieve and it's a treasure to last my whole life.

Allow me to be honest; sure, it was great. Although, looking back at life now that I am married, have a family and turning 30, you know what the perks are of all my success and winnings during my glorious 4-H and FFA career? It's not the trophies.

We all think winning lasts an eternity. That's the reason I always feel a little empathy when I see individuals sacrificing their family's happiness, ethics and more, just to win.

Dale Schlundt is a graduate student at the University of Texas-San Antonio and a certified meat goat judge.

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