Last year, the pandemic forced Wilmington College to pivot from the long-held tradition of hosting its Aggies Judging Contest live and in-person to making the event virtual. While it attracted a record 2,111 participants in 2021, this year’s 64th edition will return as an in-person competition March 2 when high school students hone their skills at agronomy and judging equine, dairy and general livestock.
This year’s event again will be held at the Champion Expo Center, 4122 Laybourne Rd., Springfield, with judging from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
WC senior Carley Asher is president of the Aggies and Collegiate Farm Bureau. She is proud the Aggies were so nimble as to stage a successful online event during the pandemic last year, but is thrilled her senior year will see a return to the venerable in-person format.
She was a sophomore when, in early March 2020, the judging contest was literally the college’s final live event that semester as only days later students, faculty and staff went virtual and didn’t return to campus until the summer. The event two years ago attracted a then-record 1,402 participants, a number she doesn’t expect they will eclipse this year.
“Last year was a neat experience going virtual, but I’m happy it’s back to being in-person,” Asher said, noting that COVID-19 protocols will likely limit the number of participants. “Our freshmen and sophomore members are especially excited about this because they’ve never experienced being fully enveloped in the entire process.”
Indeed, students run the show. They secure the animals, organize the logistics and get the word out to high schools, 4-H groups, vocational agriculture classes and members of the FFA. The contest represents the real-life application and a hands-on learning experience for both the high school students and WC’s agriculture students that stage the event.
Asher noted that many WC Aggies’ first taste of the event was as competitors in the contest while in high school — that also served as their introduction to Wilmington College. Those students’ work in presenting the contest “completes the circle.”
The judging contest is billed as the largest event of its kind east of the Mississippi and annually is among the first competitions of the new year.
The Aggies’ longtime adviser, Harold Thirey, assistant professor of agriculture, died unexpectedly last year several weeks before the competition. The event’s formal name is now the Wilmington College Aggies’ Judging Contest in Memory of Harold Thirey.
Wilmington College’s Bachelor of Science in Agriculture degree program features concentrations in agricultural business, agronomy, animal science, equine business management, agricultural communications and agricultural education. WC recently implemented a new ag-related concentration in food policy and agriculture advocacy. Also, the college offers minors in equine studies and sustainability.
Submitted by Randall Sarvis, senior director of public relations, Wilmington College.