The Lanesboro FFA Dairy Judging team competed at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky., and earned second place out of 42 teams from as many states. Their placing earned them an opportunity to compete at an international dairy judging competition in Europe. Making the trip to the national competition were FFA advisor Kristi Ruen, coach Stacy Leiding, Kayla Leiding, Haely Leiding, Travis Troendle, Jared Troendle and coach Pat Troendle.  SUBMITTED PHOTO
The Lanesboro FFA Dairy Judging team competed at the National FFA Convention in Louisville, Ky., and earned second place out of 42 teams from as many states. Their placing earned them an opportunity to compete at an international dairy judging competition in Europe. Making the trip to the national competition were FFA advisor Kristi Ruen, coach Stacy Leiding, Kayla Leiding, Haely Leiding, Travis Troendle, Jared Troendle and coach Pat Troendle. SUBMITTED PHOTO
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At this point, there is little left to be said about those who have made up the Lanesboro FFA Dairy Judging team the past few years. The names are recalled easily, having been called out numerous times at many competitions over the years. Once one name is announced, you know the next three are sure to follow. After all, who else could there be? The names: Kayla Leiding, Haely Leiding, Travis Troendle and Jared Troendle. Those are the names, but more importantly, they are the people who have made those names what they stand for today. However, there is actually still plenty left to be said.

On April 30, 2013, the team of the Leiding sisters and the Troendle brothers realized its goal of winning first prize at the Minnesota State FFA Convention and earned a trip to the National FFA Convention competition in Louisville, Ky.

In 2012, they had taken second place at state, which allowed them to return this year with even more experience, knowledge and skill. Teams that win at the state competition are not allowed to compete in following years. This meant the Leidings and Troendles only had one opportunity to make an impact on the national level. In other words, they were back in familiar territory.

Prior to their National FFA competition during the last week in October, Kayla, Haely and Travis had competed together with Chatfield resident Abby Hopp at the Minnesota State Fair 4-H dairy judging competition. They won first place. They competed together again on a national level at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis., on Sept. 30. They took fourth in the nation.

"It all depends on the day," the team members agreed.

It also depends on whom they are competing against. The team has won national competitions, but also come in second place in regional competitions. They placed fourth in the National 4-H competition at the Expo and advanced to the National FFA competition. Even if they haven't taken first place in every single judging competition there is, they have been consistently great. They have the hardware to prove it.

That consistency, coupled with a determination to win every time, led the team to Louisville.

Since they are involved in 4-H judging, their FFA team is able to keep up their judging skills during the summer. They visited farms to practice judging in herds they had never seen before. Having judged cattle since the third grade, the team members weren't concerned about the dairy evaluation portion of the national competition.

However, the title of the national competition was Dairy Evaluation and Management. The management portion of the competition was new. It would require the team to develop a 10-minute presentation in 40 minutes. They were given the topic beforehand: herd nutrition. However, the specific herd scenario, off of which the team would base their presentation, wouldn't be given until the moment of competition. Fortunately, the Leidings and Troendles had a few weapons at their disposal.

The first: communication skills. According to Kayla, there were over 16 variables they needed to know well for their presentation. They smartly divided and conquered, leaving each team member with four factors to become knowledgeable in.

Their second weapon: Pat Troendle. Pat is Travis and Jared's father and is a herd nutritionist. With his knowledge base and guidance in practice, the team was able to carry out three mock-presentations and one the night before the national competition.

"We felt really prepared for it," Travis said, adding that their parents had helped prepare them well. "They told us to go down and have fun."

Experiencing the National FFA Convention wasn't new to Haely, Kayla, Travis or Jared, but competing gave them an insight they wouldn't normally have. Over 56,000 FFA members in official dress were in attendance throughout the week and of those, only 163 were competing in the Dairy Evaluation and Management competition.

The night before competition started, the team gathered for one final practice. "We wanted our team to be in the top 10," Kayla said.

When Oct. 30 came, it was down to business.

The team members took a written test first. Normally, they would be allowed to work together, but they weren't at nationals. Shortly after completing the test, they went through the presentation portion of competition. At this point, the team was completely focused. They had to be since other teams were presenting nearby and they could hear them.

"We felt really confident. Some judges didn't have any questions for us," said Haely.

Just like that, it was over. What they considered to be the most unknown part of the competition had gone very well. Taking some time to de-stress and rest up, the team woke up early the following day, Oct. 31, to do what they do best: judge cattle.

In the back of their minds, the team knew other states that are strong in the dairy industry would also have competitive teams.

On Nov. 1, an awards luncheon was held and individual and team winners were announced. Individuals received either bronze, silver or gold emblems based on their performance.

The Leidings and Troendles didn't want to hear their names. Not having your name announced means you have placed in the top 10. Travis and Jared heard their names called to receive a gold emblem. That left Kayla and Haely wondering where they had placed in the top 10. Already, the team knew they had again been consistent in their judging since they had all received at least gold emblems. Kayla's name was called to receive ninth place. Haely's was called to receive fourth. Travis didn't know it at the time, but he had been in 11th place.

In their minds, the Leidings and Troendles were figuring what their individual placements meant for their team performance.

"After every other name is called, you are relieved," explained Jared.

The Lanesboro team name wasn't called to receive a bronze, silver, or gold emblem, which again meant they were in the top 10.

Kayla said she remembered hoping they wouldn't get fourth place, since the top three teams receive an opportunity to attend an international dairy judging competition in Europe. They didn't get fourth.

Though they have had their names called numerous times to step on stage and receive award after award, the Lanesboro team didn't want their name called. Not only because it would mean they hadn't taken first and the competition was over, but because it would mean their time spent as a dairy judging team would come to a close.

For a team better described as a family, they didn't want this part of their lives to end. "Our advantage is that we've all been judging since we were little. That's where our strength comes from," explained Travis.

They had ended their run in 4-H judging at the Expo and now, it was time to end their run in FFA.

Illinois took fourth place. "I feel like people in our school understand more about FFA. They see how far you can go," said Haely.

Indiana took third.

"I think our parents have just as much fun as we do. They are the reason we went so far," the team members echoed.

It was between the team from Kentucky and the families from Minnesota. The names were called. Lanesboro was awarded second place. They couldn't help but feel a confusing mix of happiness and disappointment. The hardware was claimed.

Haely earned a $700 scholarship and Kayla, a $400 award for their individual achievements. The team had been first in their presentation. They would be able to travel to Europe next summer. Yet, it had ended.

Haely, Kayla, Travis and Jared will continue to be very involved in FFA. They will find other competitions to do well in. They will be able to focus more time on school, sports and other activities. They will be able to share the skills they have gained through dairy judging.

The trophy case near the agriculture room in Lanesboro High School will see some shuffling. Older trophies are moving out and the hardware with the Leiding and Troendle names on it will move in. In time, those trophies too may be moved out in favor of more recent accolades. The trophies will sit still, collecting dust.

Meanwhile, the Leidings and Troendles will move forward, living what those awards represent.