Best in the Midwest: 94th annual Little International allows students to learn collaboratively

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Mary Lack participates in a Little “I” showing event.

The 94th Little International came to a close after the awards ceremony Saturday night, with overall champion showman being awarded to senior animal science major Dallis VanderWal. 

“All of my Little ‘I’ experiences come down to one moment,” VanderWal said. “When I was in 4-H, our county achievement days round robin contest was a big deal and after I won that, one of my role models through all of 4-H talked to me, congratulated me and said ‘now it’s just Little ‘I’.’ And that has pushed me through all of the trials and sacrifices that it takes to compete in Little ‘I.’”

The tradition that is Little “I” was themed “Best in the Midwest” this year, but the outreach of the event goes beyond that.

Planning for the largest student-run, two-day agricultural exposition in the country began in October of last year and became a reality March 31 and April 1. 

Students, alumni and family packed the stands in the Animal Science Arena for various judging competitions both days.

“Little International can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people,” said Dalen Zuidema, manager for the 94th Little International.

Little “I” offers many judging competitions for FFA and 4-H students, such as dairy foods, livestock judging and range plant identification. This year, nearly 2,000 students from South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, North Dakota and Nebraska attended and competed in the event.

Not only does Little “I” bring high school students to campus, but the event also invites South Dakota State alumni back. Tours of the swine and cow/calf units were given along with an alumni social where current students could chat with SDSU alumni.

“For the alumni, faculty, parents, all those people, it’s a chance to come out to SDSU to see our beautiful campus, to see all the resources we can provide by making this event possible; in the case of alumni, to relive some of the glory days,” Zuidema said. “We have a lot of alumni back, who were on Little ‘I’ staff, had a blast doing it and love coming back year after year.”

Current SDSU students are able to participate in Little “I” as a committee member and a competitor. Staff members find a sense of belonging and get to be part of something bigger, according to Zuidema.

“For the people on staff, it’s a chance to be a part of an organization, which can be so beneficial when you’re in college,” Zuidema said. “It gives you a community to fall back on, as well as a place where you can develop some skills.”

Students are given the chance to compete as well. Every year, a drawing is held and various numbers of horses, cattle, goats, hogs and sheep are selected by students and broken up into novice and experienced showmen.

Students were given two to three weeks to prepare for fitting and showmanship competitions during the event. Showmanship allows the top two showmen of each species to compete in a round robin competition.

The round robin competition is the finale for the competing showmen who earned their way to compete with the best of the best and show each species, while they are scored by the judges. The reserve champion title went to SDSU freshman animal science major Lacey Schmitz.

Along with the livestock competitions, students can compete for high-point freshman or upperclassman. During this the competitors participate in judging competition and the points they acquire from these competitions is totaled to their points obtained from the livestock competitions.

The high-point upperclassman for the 94th Little International was awarded to Brady Wulf and the high-point freshman title was earned by Kalyn Naatz.

Students’ work is rewarded during the finale of the event, in the awards ceremony. The Little “I” committee not only awards the students, but it votes on a family to be awarded the “Honored Agriculturalists.” This year the award went to Mike and Betty Brink of Redfield.

Recognition is also given to the hardest worker on staff with the Pete Pritchett award, which is voted on by the staff. This award was given to treasurer Devin Jacobs. 

Kendrah Schafer, the 94th Little International assistant manager, will keep the tradition rolling as the 95th Little International manager in the 2017-2018 year.