Last month, three Ellis County 4-H’ers traveled to College Station to take on some of the best livestock judges in the state and compete in the Texas 4-H Roundup.

In their first year of competing together, Jessica Benson, Kevin Gleason and Casey Sellers teamed up to take seventh place at 4-H’s state championships, defeating teams from 23 other counties.

Their achievement marked the team’s steady progression over the past two years, Gleason said. While last year’s team earned a trip to the district competition, they didn’t advance to state. This year, the team “buckled down,” Sellers said, noting members missed first place at the State Fair of Texas by only one point.

In the competition, the students “have to evaluate both market and breeding animals of cattle, sheep and swine,” county ag and natural resources agent Mark Arnold said, adding that the students have to be able to explain and defend their placings to the judges.

“It’s one of the more difficult contests as far as 4-H and FFA contest like that are concerned, because they have to orally justify what they did,” Arnold said.

The competition requires that the students work on judging three different types of animal as well as improving their public speaking skills.

“They did a good job,” Arnold said. “They worked really hard.”

The team benefited from veteran coaching and leadership this year, with Arnold and Moe Francis serving as coaches and with Gleason bringing his six years of judging experience to the table.

A Waxahachie High School graduate and member of the Livestock 4-H Club, Gleason took high-point individual honors in the swine competition and a fourth high-point individual overall.

The son of Mike and Kerri Gleason, Kevin will attend Blinn College in Brenham on a judging scholarship in the fall, where he will study ag communications. Gleason said he’s thinking about moving on to either Texas A&M or Texas Tech to compete on their judging teams after a few years at Blinn.

Also taking high individual honors at the roundup was Sellers, a graduate of Ennis High School, who won third place in the cattle high-point individual contest.

Sellers, the son of Greg and Teresa Sellers, will attend Tarleton State University in the fall, where he plans to study animal science.

A two-year judging veteran, Sellers also showed shorthorn cattle as part of his 4-H career.

Joining the two graduates on this year’s team, Benson will be a senior at Ennis High School in the fall.

This was her first year to compete in livestock judging, though she has been active in 4-H and the FFA for quite a while. The daughter of Ken and Trisha Benson and a member of the Livestock 4-H Club, Jessica has shown cattle and lambs in 4-H and is the chapter president of Ennis FFA. She is considering attending Texas A&M after she graduates.

“I was excited and scared all at the same time, because it was Kevin and Casey’s last year to judge,” Benson said.

For her, oral reasoning was the easiest part of the competition, but she says she still got nervous about it at roundup.

“I wanted to make sure I did a good job,” she said, saying the team did all right.

“It was good,” she says. “I wish we had done better, but I was glad we were in the top 10.”

Success a tradition

Year in and year out, Ellis County 4-H’ers have made success at the Texas 4-H Roundup a tradition. Whether it’s the Craig sisters, the livestock judging team or the nutrition quiz bowl team, students from the county have represented themselves, their families and their clubs well during the annual competition in College Station.

This year, Ben Kaster won first place in the state in the consumer life skills competition, which he describes as “a method demonstration contest that is basically shopping smartly.”

“Whether you’re buying shoes or buying life insurance, there are ways you can go about it that you come out ahead,” Kaster said.

A competitor at the state roundup for the past four years, Kaster will attend Tarleton State University in the fall.

In the food show’s nutritious snack competition, Katelyn Tonick of Red Oak took fourth, her second year in a row to earn a top-five finish at the show. Last year, she won second in the breads and cereals competition and this year took fourth with a cilantro tomato dish, which she described as “tomatoes stuffed with cottage cheese with cilantro and other spices.”

It was her first year to compete in the contest, in which she had to prepare the dish and explain everything she did and what she learned from the experience.

This year’s contest was the last year of 4-H for Tonick, who will attend Texas A&M University in the fall.

Tonick was also a member of the county’s nutrition quiz bowl team, which earned a top 10 finish at the roundup.

Consisting of Tonick, Stephanie Emeigh, Amanda Merritt and Karen Williams, the team took ninth at state, a one-position improvement from last year’s effort.

The county’s team has made the trip to College Station each of the past four years, with a best finish of seventh. However, the team had to defeat more teams this year (14) for its ninth place finish than the number of teams it bested the year it took seventh.

Williams also teamed up with Jeremy West in the family life contest, taking seventh overall.

E-mail Anthony at