Keeping his nerves in check after a rough start to his day of competing in the 2018 National Land Judging contest, Sonora High School’s Dylan Taylor secured a National Championship Title and led his team to a second-place finish nationally, Thursday, May 3, 2018.

The Sonora High School FFA was one of 100 teams, representing 31 states, participating in the national FFA land Judging contest in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma earlier this month.

Torrential downpours the night before delayed the start of contest to allow time for the pits the contestants were to judge to dry out and the Sonora FFA chapter team anxiously awaited their chance to vie for a national title.

Dylan Taylor, Sonora High School FFA student, said the wait worked on his nerves a little.

“I was waiting to go at 8:30 that morning. When 9:00 passed, I felt some kind of pressure.”

Nonetheless, the pressure didn’t hurt him any, as his score of 288, only twelve points from perfect led the team to a National Reserve Championship.
Taylor’s score was the top score in the nation and he went on to win the contest title after defeating a Childress, Texas judger in a tie breaker.
“We were talking off stage as the announcement of the high individuals went on,” Taylor said. “We both knew we had tied as our Ag teachers had talked before results were announced and both of us had scored 288. I told him my points came off of Field 4 and he told me that I had won the tie breaker because he dropped points on Field 2.”

The tie breaker goes to the individual who scores on Part 1 of Field 1.

If scores are still tied, the high score on Part 2 of Field 1 becomes the tie breaker. If scores are still tied, they move along to Part 1 of Field 2, then Part 2, etc. until the tie is broken.

“After that, we were just listening for other states to be called out as we kept watching the others in the top ten crossing the stage. When there were only three of us left, I couldn’t breathe as the announcer finally said Nebraska as the State where the third-place judger was from. I nearly passed out knowing that I was the nation’s best land judger that day.”

“We were excited for him,” Summer Hall, one of Dylan’s teammates said.

In agreement, Tully Flanagan, also on the team said, “We all knew he had won it. He’s been close to winning all year. This time, we knew it was his day.”

After placing fourth in the State contest April 26 in Stephenville, the team knew that all bets were off and they had a clean slate to try for a national win.
“We have judged for three years together and haven’t won yet.” Rebeckah Owen said. “We’ve been second and third several times and I don’t think this year we’ve been out of the top five very many times.”

The team had placed from second to sixth this year. The sixth-place finish coming at the Tarleton State University Invitational contest where the teams are not ranked on scores, but rather on individual placings. Top five placings qualify teams for advancement to the next level from Area to State and from State to Nationals.

Advisor Tim Flanagan said he knew he had a team this year that would be competitive.

“They just always had the fight in them. If we judged really good or not so good, they had passion for judging and that’s what it takes.”

Qualifying for the National event in the past, Flanagan said he was confident that this team was as good as the ones he had taken to Oklahoma in past years.

“I’ve seen them come into the year with the drive that this bunch had. They never lost it. They held their heads up and kept on getting better all year long.”

With the exception of one year, Flanagan’s teams have been in the top five every year as well as taking the win in 2002. Flannagan said in 2002, they were all fairly new but with a lot of great help they were able to secure a win that year.

Flanagan was referring to his high school Ag teacher, Danny Beck from Lamesa, who has traveled with land judging teams from Pecos and Klondike since his retirement in 2001.

“Mr. Beck is the reason I became an Ag teacher,” Flannagan said. “And, he taught me everything I know about training teams and judging. There’s no telling how many times he took teams to nationals during his career. I know that he’s taken teams with me and with Klondike eight times since 2001. He has probably forgotten more about training land teams than most teachers will ever know.”

The land judging event tests students’ skills in determining land capability according to the USDA National Resources Conservation Service classifications based on several soil factors, including texture, depth and erosion, as well as topographical qualities involving slope and how the slope affects water runoff.

Once they classify the land, they prescribe vegetative, mechanical and fertilizer treatments based on the land classification and the characteristics of the soil and the land.

Participation in this event gives students an advantage in the job market as they learn the skills needed to pursue a career in soil science. Soil science is a very involved science and the job done by the folks in the NRCS regarding soil conservation helps American farmers and ranchers make sound judgments in the management of their properties and their land’s ability to produce crops and grazing lands that are suited for agricultural production.
Summer Hall, the daughter of Steven and Susan Hall and a senior in SHS, has been on the land judging team for three years.
In addition, Dylan Taylor, the son of Stefanie Taylor and is a junior at SHS, and Rebeckah Owen, the daughter of Terry and Kelly Owen, have both been a member of the team for three years.

Tully Flanagan, son of Tim and Maritza Flanagan and a sophomore at SHS, has been on the team for two years.

Reese Baird, the son of Brandee Baird, and Juan Ruiz, the son of Juan and Marilu Ruiz, are both freshmen and judged in the alternate division at nationals, preserving their eligibility to judge next year.

“I’m excited to go back and get to judge in the regular division next year,” said Ruiz.

Sharing his sentiment, Baird said he was disappointed to not be able to judge in a division to help the team, but he is happy they got it done and excited at the opportunity to return next year.

The team competed in several invitational events this spring, traveling as far as Jacksboro and Canyon, including three trips to Stephenville for Tarleton State University contests. They are the hosts for the area and state events as well as one invitational.