Summer is quickly approaching, and for many livestock families that week dubbed “the most wonderful time of year,” otherwise known as Junior Nationals, will soon be here. Yes, many breed-and species-specific week-long events might have started as a place for youth across the country to showcase their animals over the course of several days. But these junior national events have evolved into more than “just a show.” They include educational contests, leadership development, memory making opportunities and relationship builders.
For two young men, who met 19 years ago at their first Junior National Hereford Exposition, the showring held significant importance to them and their families. However, it was the skills they developed, the memories they made and the friendships they built that made the lasting impact on their lives.
Shy Cody Beck from Bainbridge, Ind., had traveled all the way to Tulsa, Okla., for his first JNHE in 2000. He had no idea that stalled down the aisle from him was someone that would later stand next to him as the best man in his wedding.
“We didn’t know each other at all in 2000. We were stalled down the aisle from each other at our first junior national and started talking. We’d see each other every year at Junior Nationals, and in high school when we were getting our heifers ready for the show, we’d start calling and texting about show heifer preparations. We eventually became college roommates and were in each other’s weddings,” said Brady Jensen, originally from Courtland, Kan.
“Some of the best opportunities are the friendships I made at Junior Nationals and the connections I made along the way,” he said.
Jensen said that due to their friendship and interest in livestock judging, he and Beck planned their college visit to Butler Community College in Kansas on the same day. The two, along with fellow junior Hereford exhibitor and Brady’s cousin, Cody Jensen, lived together at Butler and were on the same junior college judging team.
Jensen said the friendships that are gained at Junior Nationals are priceless. He served on the National Junior Hereford Board, a three-year commitment, and still maintains contact with many of his board-mates, who share similar interests from Hereford cattle, careers or judging.
“Serving on the board was an awesome experience from a couple different perspectives. Number one, the chance to run for the junior Hereford Board or any junior Board is a real eye opener. From a leadership perspective, it’s more than a meeting. While you are running for the board, you are able to have cross-table discussions with people from all different parts of the United States talking about the direction of a program that at the time was exploding,” Jensen said. “Number two, while I was on the junior board, it was amazing how much growth happened.”
While friendships and leadership opportunities are two of the greatest benefits to the week of junior nationals, sharpening life skills was something that both Beck and Jensen took advantage of. Beck gives a lot of credit for where he is today in his career to the communication and networking skills he gained while participating in educational contests like livestock judging and team fitting at the JNHE.
“Especially with the job I have now, I have to connect with breeders and commercial cattlemen alike, and communications is a big part of that. Regardless of any job, you have to be able to communicate. Being a part of the NJHA and participating, even in scholarship interviews, helped me, especially being a shy kid. You never know who you will meet along the way,” said Beck, who is the Southwest Representative for the American-International Charolais Association, and based out of his home in Perry, Okla.
Jensen participated in numerous contests at the JNHE, including extemporaneous public speaking. He was also able to participate in extemp public speaking the four years he also exhibited at the National Junior Angus Show. As the livestock judging coach and an instructor at South Dakota State University, he encourages young people to get involved in these contests that help build their life skills and self-confidence.
Beck and Jensen were able to join forces again at the 2018 JNHE as they judged the junior, peewee and pre-peewee showmanship contest. Both big fans and fierce competitors in showmanship as junior members, they were excited to judge this contest together last summer.
“It was a great opportunity for me to judge, but it was also a great opportunity to give back to an organization that helped me quite a bit. I was always passionate about showmanship and getting to work with the younger kids and encouraging them to stick with it was enjoyable too. Judging with Brady was an awesome opportunity, considering we met at Junior Nationals and then we got to come back and judge there together,” Beck said.
“To get the opportunity to go back and judge showmanship was an awesome opportunity. After we left, we realized what a bigger challenge it was than we even remembered, and we had a great appreciation for the Hereford juniors,” Jensen echoed.
Many livestock families may never make it to the beach or an amusement park, but they have seen the Rocky Mountains, Churchill Downs or that scenic stretch of Interstate-80 between Grand Island and Des Moines surrounded by soybeans and cornstalks in the summer. These are “summer vacations” for livestock families where friendships will form. Memories will be made. Skills will be learned. Ribbons will be won.
“Whether or not a junior has a heifer that is going to win its class isn’t the biggest thing. The placings of the classes you show in will fade but the friendships you make and skills you learn are the memories you will have forever. What makes junior nationals really special is the chance to interact with others from other states and participate in the contests that are not always available at other shows,” Jensen said.
“If it weren’t for Junior Nationals, I wouldn’t have met my best friend Brady,” Beck said.
And having a great friend that will eventually become your best man is far better than any ribbon you will ever win. Make the memories and get involved with your junior national this year.