Through the Fence 5-24-10 |

Through the Fence 5-24-10

Everyone loves it when an underdog wins. We love to watch “little guys” face a “giant” twice their size and beat them. When they triumph, it’s because of preparation and a gutsy attitude – not luck. It’s a theme as old as David and Goliath.

Our tiny 1-A school beat some real giants this year at the ag mechanics contest at the Houston Livestock Show. The Houston show is huge. There are hundreds of schools of all sizes that compete for top honors with a student-made project. Many have more money, more students, bigger ag shops and more equipment, and sometimes, more than one ag teacher. The Houston show is like the Miss America pageant of the ag world. And this year, little bitty Priddy, Texas, got the crown – Grand Champion Ag Mechanics Project. Most ag teachers only dream of winning this honor and always keep aiming for it. Unfortunately, in some schools there are unethical teachers and parents who are guided by the “win at all cost” principle. They have professional welders and mechanics do the bulk of the work on the student project. They only allow the kids only to assist or put the finishing touches on the project before it enters the competition. But about a dozen hardworking kids built Priddy’s project themselves, spending many nights, weekends and holidays at the ag shop while their friends were home enjoying their ease.

Just like in those underdog sports movies, it’s not just the team effort that pays off; part of the success is the leadership of the coach. Behind our ag mechanics’ team is an awesome leader whose whole life had been preparing him for that big win. His talent, training, creativity, and determination finally propelled him to the top after coming close several times. Our ag teacher, Barry Randolph is the kind of guy you love to see get the commendation he deserves, although he prefers to stay in the background. When I congratulated him on this career-topping achievement, he just kicked the dust with the toe of his boot and said something like, “Aw shucks; it was nothin’. The kids did all the work.”

Randolph grew up on a cotton farm near Lubbock, Texas, driving tractors, moving irrigation pipes, welding and learning to fix farm machinery. He graduated from Texas Tech and started teaching ag at small high schools. After several years, he attended a three week agriculture mechanics certification course. Since then, he has helped his ag students build everything from light stands, shop tables, animals feeders, welding and utility trailers to metal barns, laser land-levelers and livestock trailers. His knack for building was whetted when he was a young man by adding a garage onto his mother’s house. Later, assisted by his wife and teenage sons, he built his own home with a welded metal framework.

A few years ago, he decided to try building something new – squeeze chutes. He had used squeeze chutes in his own ranching operation and knew what worked and what didn’t. He and his ag students started building them and adding more bells and whistles each year such as hydraulic controls, portable pens and tilting chutes and an opening floor that allows access to the animals’ feet.

Each year, the team built bigger and more complicated squeeze chutes. And as they did, their rankings at the major show continued to improve. They even won Reserve Grand at several major shows, but the top honor of Grand Champion seemed to elude Randolph – until this year.

The winner was a 20- foot long heavy-duty contraption that featured a “crash cage” and various hydraulic controls, designed and built for a rancher who raises buffalo. The ag students under Randolph’s expert tutelage built this enormous apparatus in two months for the bargain price of $12,000. Winning the grand prize ribbon was sweet because of the recognition of his peers, thousands of dollars in scholarship monies and donated equipment. It was even sweeter because two of Randolph’s own sons got to help build and exhibit the project.

Usually teaching is an obscure and thankless job. But for one man, winning big in Houston will more than make up for the exhaustion and anonymity. Besides, enjoying the god-like status at our tiny rural school will last long after the purple dye has faded from that championship banner.

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