CORVALLIS - Oregon State University's football players weren't the only ones to carry the Beaver black-and-orange to victory at a national competition.

The OSU livestock judging team took home first place in cattle judging at the national championships in Louisville, Ky., and placed third overall. The team also took home a first-place overall at the national contest in Fort Worth and swept regional competition in Medford, taking first in all categories.

Team coach Tom Hill, a senior instructor in animal sciences at OSU, credited a combination of hard work, determination, and support for the team's winning season.

"A lot of good things came together (for us) all at once," Hill said. "I attribute our wins to the quality of the students we had; the time and efforts of our graduate student, Clint Sexson, and support from our department head, Dr. Jim Males. Without any one of those parts of the equation, and we might not have been that successful."

OSU placed in the overall top three in seven out of eight regional and national contests in competition with 50 universities. Their overall first-place victory at the Fort Worth, Texas, competition made OSU the first West coast team to take the event in 25 years.

Mike Burke, the associate dean at OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences, who worked to resurrect OSU's livestock judging team 12 years ago, said the team reflects credit on OSU's animal sciences program.

"They're really an outstanding group of people, and they represent OSU awfully well all around the U.S.," Burke said. "Cattle is our number one livestock industry in the state, but to be ranked first nationally really says something. The Oregon State team always ranked first among the West Coast universities, but this is the first time that they've really broken into the national scene."

Other victories included a first-place sweep of all categories during the regional competition in Medford, Ore.; second-place overall finishes at the Cow Palace in San Francisco and The Great Western Livestock Show in Tulare, Calif., with a third-place overall victory at the Houston, Texas, competition.

Livestock judging contests require students to evaluate the relative economic merits of cattle, sheep, swine and sometimes horses by comparing differences in body type, composition, and performance.

In addition to judging the livestock for conformity to a breed standard, competitors also must rank particular entrants according to their suitability for market.

Team members are judged according to their ability to demonstrate their knowledge, accuracy and poise in a public forum.

In addition to Hill and assistant coach Sexson, the 2000 team members were Matt Debrick of Crater; J.B. Dimick, Eagle Point; Chris McBride, Redmond; Katie Dunlap, Medford; Jeremy Kennedy, Vail; Kelli McManus, Glide; Cathy Sheeter, Burns; Sara Wilson of Canby and Tyrel Kliewer, Dan McNary and Wade Small of Klamath Falls.

The team, which fields a new set of students each year, is financed by OSU student body funds, the OSU Department of Animal Sciences and the E.R. Jackman Foundation. Students pay for their own meals and incidental expenses.

"The judging activity requires students to learn, think and gain experiences not available in the classroom," Hill said. "My opinion is that the livestock judging competition should be called The Thinking Game."

Former team member Tom Ayers said that his stint on the 1991 livestock judging team not only made him think; it actually changed his life.

"I don't think I'd be an FFA (Future Farmers of America) and ag teacher if I hadn't been on team," said Ayers, now an agriculture teacher at Powder Valley High School, midway between La Grande and Baker City "in the heart of cattle country."

"(Livestock judging) kind of directed the rest of my life," Ayers said. "The connections I made on the judging team and the people I met through competing in the different livestock shows focused me on what kind of person I wanted to be when I got older."

Ayers still supports the team, hosting them when they are in his area.

"They track me down to give them dinner," he said.

The 2001 team - made up of all new members - has just started competition in Arizona. They recently placed third overall in their first showing.

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Tom Hill, 541-737-1895