Routt County team heads to national livestock judging event |

Routt County team heads to national livestock judging event

Members of the Routt County 4-H Livestock Judging team, including Kayla Rossi, Kaetlyn Friedeman, Jessica Diehl, Grace Olinger and Dyllan Spitzley, along with coaches Rod Olinger, left, and Rod Wille, pose at Colorado State University following the Colorado 4-H State Conference. The team won the event earning Friedeman, Diehl, Olinger and Spitzley a chance to compete at the American International Livestock Exposition in Kentucky next week.
Rod Wille/courtesy

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Longtime Routt County 4-H leader Rod Wille will head to Louisville, Kentucky, this week with what he said is one of the strongest 4-H livestock judging teams he has ever coached.

“I think this team has what it takes to win,” Wille said. “This is one of the best judging teams that we have ever had, and I think they will do really well.”

Wille said the Routt County team is scheduled to compete Tuesday, Nov. 19, at the North American International Livestock Exposition. The team qualified for the national competition after winning the team title in the livestock judging contest at Colorado’s 4-H State Conference, which was held in June at Colorado State University.

The top team at the state conference represents Colorado at the North American International Livestock Exposition. The second-place team goes to the American Royal, and the third-place team is invited to the National Western Roundup in Denver.

The Routt County team includes: Grace Olinger, a freshman at Northeastern Junior College in Sterling; Jessica Diehl, a Steamboat Springs High School senior; Dyllan Spitzley, a Steamboat Springs High School junior; and Kaetyln Friedeman, a Soroco High School junior.

“I’m super excited, because it’s the biggest national contest that we can go to,” Diehl said. “I feel like it’s a really strong team. We are all really driven, and I think that we have a real opportunity to do well.”

The competitors judge cattle, sheep, swine and goats in both breeding and market classes at the national competition, ranking the animals in the morning and giving oral reasons to defend their choices in the afternoon.

“You kind of have to be confident in what you’ve done in the morning,” said Olinger, who won the top individual award at the state conference. “Then you have to be prepared to defend your placings with accurate evidence. You have to tell them the thinking that went behind those decisions and try to explain why you’re right. It is challenging because sometimes, you’re not right.”

Olinger, who has been judging since age 8, follows in the footsteps of her father Rod, who also grew up judging and now coaches the team alongside Wille.

“This is about a lot more than just judging livestock,” Wille said. “Livestock judging teaches them how to present themselves, speak in public and defend their decisions. I believe the skills they take away from this will help them in interviews for jobs someday.”

He said it also teaches the students how to handle stressful situations and to think on their feet. He said livestock judging is also a great avenue to college scholarships.

“I think it’s helped me a lot with public speaking and learning how to react under pressure because it’s a stressful situation,” said Diehl, who started judging when she was 12. “I’ve learned a lot on how to handle stress and how to turn that into a form of success. It’s also taught me to learn about the livestock industry, which is huge.”

Olinger, a freshman in college, earned a full-ride scholarship to Northeastern Community College in Sterling and will compete as part of that school’s Livestock Judging Team later this year. Next week’s competition will be her final as a 4-H member. Diehl also has been offered scholarships for judging, and she plans to pursue it in college.

Routt County currently has about 30 participants in the 4-H livestock judging programs.

 “It’s a different kind of experience, because it’s a really complicated activity,” Diehl said. “Once you learn it, you grow to love it, and then once you become competitive, you just can’t stop.”

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.

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