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Thank a Judge (Because Very Few Will)

Thank a Judge (Because Very Few Will), by Chris Boleman

IMG_3556 copyOver the holiday break, I listened to a podcast entitled, “When Your Dreams Die.”  This podcast was a reading of one of Rick Reilly’s most famous true stories he authored for Sports Illustrated first published in the December 24, 1994 edition.

The summary of the true story is as follows:  Kenny Wilcoxen, local high school football referee spent a lifetime trying to earn his shot at refereeing in the Illinois State Football Championship.   However, he missed an out of bounds call two weeks before the state championship game, was then relentlessly ridiculed, resulting in being stripped of his opportunity to officiate the state championship, and ultimately he attempted suicide (for which he failed).

It was after the failed attempt of suicide did he learn his life’s meaning and only then was it revealed the impact he had on hundreds of youth through his life’s commitment to youth athletics.

I was listening to this podcast on one of my morning runs and all I could do was compare this story of an official trying to do his best to a judge standing in the middle of the ring at a livestock show.

The comparisons are endless.

Here are a few.

High school officials and livestock judges share the following:

  • They receive very, very few compliments
  • They are quick to be criticized (either in person or in the stands)
  • They are accused of being bought
  • They are accused of taking care of friends
  • They are sometimes followed to the parking lot
  • They don’t get paid a lot for their work
  • Those that are most critical of both have most likely never been in their shoes.

While I don’t judge near as much as I used to, I can personally confirm some of these commonalities.  I have had letters written to my bosses, anonymous letters sent to my home address, been approached in the parking lot, been approached in the ring during the show, received phone calls asking for explanations, and even had items thrown at me while judging in the ring.

Each time these things have happened, I exited saying I would never judge again.  Well, 20 years later, I still find myself in the ring (even though it is far less often) doing my thing.


Because the good outweighs the bad.  Because deep down, I do it to help teach, instruct, and be a part of young people’s lives.

Of course, people can read this and criticize it too.  They question my motives and my ability.  That is the chance one takes when they decide to write something like this.

And frankly, I am okay with this too.

To be clear, this is competition.  There are all types of things on the line.  A youth’s positive experience, a sale, a premium, a scholarship, pride, ego, and many other things you can list here.

IMG_0442But always remember that the judge is just doing their best to make the best decision possible.  You will agree or disagree, but I hope you will respect the decision.  More importantly, I hope you will respect the person.  The person that decided to risk all the criticisms, negative comments, and backhanded passive aggressive unsolicited comments to try their best to ensure fair, ethical decisions are being made.

To be fair, there are also some differences with livestock judges and sports officials.

  • For the most part, in sports, the game is one team versus another.  Livestock showing is one vs many (even thousands).
  • Most sports have a clock.  Livestock judging doesn’t.
  • Sports have instant replay.  Livestock judging doesn’t.
  • Sports officiating is more black and white interpretation of rules (for example in bounds or out of bounds) while livestock judging is more about a judge’s opinion.

However, never lose sight of the fact that both put themselves on the line and risk constant criticism when they agree to serve in the middle of the ring (or field).  They all aim to do the best they can do.

So, I urge you to keep things in perspective.  There will be another show, another judge, and another opportunity after this one.

Also, remember why we do this….to help remind each other that the livestock showing experience is about building youth through life skill development and education.  At the end of the day, the judge is just one person in the model.  Ask yourself where you fit too.

In closing, as you watch and cheer for the youth showing in the ring, take one second and reflect on what the judge is doing too.  I doubt anyone will hold a sign in the stands that says, “I LOVE THE JUDGE,” but a simple thank you still goes along way.

Best of luck to everyone!