The Nordheim School show barn was packed to standing room only as the late-morning sun spilled into the center ring. Children decked out in dress shirts and ties led occasionally unwilling farm animals around the ring, hopeful they would become champions.
The young members of the Nordheim Future Farmers of America have spent between five to nine months preparing for the Jan. 26 event. The town, however, has been at it for almost 75 years.
"It's a time-honored tradition," stock show coordinator Joyce Ann Warwas said of the annual stock show.
The Nordheim FFA was chartered in 1938 and soon after started having stock shows at the town's cotton gin, she said.
The organization found itself this year with the highest enrollment ever, according to Nordheim agricultural science teacher Courtney Bauer. She attributes the rise to a growing population in the town itself.
The school of about 150 students aged from pre-kindergarten to high school seniors boasts about 70 members of the FFA. Students become eligible when they reach the third grade. The school also has a 100 percent enrollment in FFA for grades 8 through 12.
"In my opinion, this is the best youth organization in the world," Bauer said about the FFA, citing preparation for college and future jobs as well as learning responsibility and leadership through the program. "The experience they get is one that they are not going to get anywhere else."
As the day wore on, the champion goats, lambs, hogs and steers were all narrowed down with tiny cheers from within the ring and loud celebration from parents in the stands clutching smartphones and video cameras.
Following the awarding of coveted belt buckles to the winners, the students watched, some with wide smiles and some in tears, as their animals were auctioned off, earning as much as more than $6,000 for a grand champion steer.
Although no one would deny that they sweeten the pot, rewards are not why Bauer encourages her students to enter the show.
"Just to go out there and have fun, that's why I would advise any of them to do it," she said. "Not to win the money or the title, just to have fun."
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