Maddy Ainsley woke up in a cold sweat as her alarm interrupted the nightmare she was having. It was the morning of the 2017 national meat judging contest, the last of seven rigorous competitions the Texas Tech University meat judging team participated in.
“Dr. Miller told us to dream about winning,” said Ainsley, a junior animal science pre-vet major. “Unfortunately, the only time I dreamt about the contest turned out to be about us losing the International.”
As a competitor normally unaffected by pre-contest nerves, Ainsley’s stomach was in knots. She sprang from her hotel bed and ran to the bathroom where she began to pray for herself and her teammates.
“It wasn’t a prayer for our team to win, but for our team to have clarity in our decisions, to use the knowledge our coaches taught us to the best of our ability, and that God’s will be done,” she said. “Because no matter the result, our purpose has always been to glorify Him.”
Keeping the contents of the nightmare to herself, Ainsley and her teammates arrived at the contest. After the competition was over, they gathered together to calculate scores based on what the officials had given to their coaches.
“We were extremely happy with where we stood,” Ainsley said. “But even more than the scores, we knew that we could wholeheartedly say that we gave it our absolute best and that we knew the outcome of the contest was out of our control.”
Tensions ran high as the participating teams arrived at the final awards banquet. Competitors and coaches alike waited anxiously to learn who would be crowned the next national champion meat judging team.
That evening Texas Tech University made history with a perfect 7-0 winning season, capturing their fifth national championship title in the last decade. Team members, Maddy Ainsley and April Molitor were the top two individuals in the contest. This accomplishment was repeated only two years prior by current graduate student assistant coaches, Clay Bendele and Erin Beyer. It was an unforgettable day, but the team returned to Lubbock knowing they had accomplished so much more than winning a contest.
“The real value of meat judging and judging, in general, has nothing to do with winning or losing or grading a beef carcass or writing a set of reasons,” said Dr. Mark F. Miller, head coach of the meat judging team and San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo Distinguished Chair in Meat Sciences. “It has to do with the development of each person.”
Since 1981, Texas Tech University has been home to over 500 students directly involved in its meat judging program. Their reputation as a winning program began in 1989 and has continued throughout the last 30 years.
“The goal of our program is to touch the world, not just win competitions,” Miller said. “And the only way it can touch the world is through the students that have been gifted to us.”
The meat judging team welcomes students of all kinds to join the program with no previous experience required. The only stipulation is they enroll in a livestock and meat animal evaluation course within the Department of Animal and Food Sciences. Miller said this allows them to not only become part of the team but also a part of the Texas Tech community.
Over the last 20 years, eight other collegiate judging programs throughout the United States have been coordinated, coached or run by Texas Tech judging graduates. Countless others have graduated from the program and gone on to work and help improve the agriculture industry.
It’s not about winning, it’s about impacting the world.
Though honored and humbled by the amount of recognition they have received, Miller and Ainsley both credit the success of the program to God.
“The Texas Tech Meat Judging program is far more than a collegiate judging team,” Ainsley said. “It is a family that is focused on faith and glorifying God.”
“It is the greatest support system you could ever imagine,” Ainsley said. “It is selflessness. It is excellence and so much more.”
Miller said even though he is directly in charge of the meat judging portion of the judging program, their success is made possible in part by the other nine judging teams within the department.
“Our entire program is a family made up of all the competitive teams here,” he said. “Even if they aren’t part of the ‘program’ they are part of the whole program, and that is very important.”
The coaches and students who are involved in the meat judging program itself focus on three main principles every year; striving for honor, the pursuit of excellence and serving unselfishly.
Striving for Honor
A moto used as the guiding light at Texas Tech, Miller said striving for honor is the act of performing every task, no matter how menial, with the utmost integrity. He said humans by design are not perfect, but it is important to encourage students to strive to become more honorable individuals every day. This helps improve the students’ quality of life as well as the lives of those around them.
Pursuit of Excellence
Team members are encouraged to do and be their best at all times. Whether in the classroom, at home, on the road, alone or otherwise, team members set a goal to be a better version of themselves than they were the day before.
“This principle is so important because God didn’t give each student on our team the same two scoops of talent as the others,” Miller said.
Ainsley said she is inspired every day to be better than she was the day before because of the people she represents as part of the program. She describes them as the people who push one another to be their best and support each other through any kind of failure.
“They learn how to pursue excellence through the program and hopefully continue that habit throughout their professional career,” Miller said
Regarded as the program’s most primitive principle, to serve unselfishly is to put others needs ahead of ones’ own. This is what the coaches and mentors of the judging program hope to instill in their students.
“When you want to have a great team and you want to be successful, you can only do so if there is trust, commitment, and love,” Miller said. “If you don’t have those three things, you’re never going to get anywhere.”
“If we have a selfish mentality in the slightest, we’re going to disintegrate quickly,” he said. “But if it’s all about making each other better and caring for one another as a family, we will always be successful.”
The judging programs at Texas Tech have built an unprecedented reputation on the premise of the students’ character and service to others. Students are challenged mentally, emotionally and physically to better themselves as both individuals and competitors.
Though crowds do not gather in an arena to watch them compete or chant their names, the dedication these students put into judging is equivalent to that of any sports team.
“This team represents hard work, love, humility, and integrity,” Ainsley said. “There aren’t adequate words that can describe what this program truly is. It is something that simply must be experienced.”