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Why Everyone Should Judge Soil

OK, maybe not everyone, but everyone should at least understand the concepts.

I'm not an athlete. I was so uncoordinated that my only attempt at sports in my school days was eighth grade track. Everyone said, "Tom, you run fast going to the field after those cows, you should try out for track." So I did. They don't have black cinders in the pasture field- we didn't have a fancy track at Whiteland High School in 1966. We had a track made of cinders from burning coal in the boiler.

Hey, some people still had pretty fast times on those cinders. But they did hurt if you tripped, which being uncoordinated, I did once in a while. I wasn't one with a fast time. In fact, I was last on the team, 33rd on a team of 32. Nobody got cut. My best performance was cheering on our guys at a multi-team meet at Edinburgh. The coach even complimented me for how well I yelled for the team. I think it was the one and only time he ever talked to me.

So much for sports. I'm not into golf either. I tried it once - or at least I tried driving a bucket of balls on a driving range. When I couldn't get one beyond 50 feet, I decided I wasn't wasting money on another bucket of balls. Heck, I'm always last even in miniature golf with the kids. My ball always got hit by one of the paddles on the old-fashioned windmills that serves as one of the holes on many courses.

What I do like to do is judge soils. I was lucky enough to make it to Oklahoma and the national contest in high school, although we scraped by to get in. Heck, one of my teammates got lucky in Oklahoma and would have had a perfect score, except his hands got cold in Oklahoma in May, and he mismarked a two-point property. We still came in fifth.

So today, I love coaching junior high and high school teams. I'm an old ag teacher from once upon a time who greatly respects those who do it all the time. But since my oldest daughter's sophomore year eons ago, I've volunteered to help coach. In the process, I've learned a lot about soils, even more about kids, and a few things about adults - even some things about myself.

One thing I've learned is that the official is the official, even if he makes a stupid call. We help put on one contest a year, and I'm the primary judge, this year I made one particularly bonehead call. The ag teachers who coach were quick to point it out to me. But hey, we went to the area contest and I thought the so-called experts made mistakes. So who's perfect - no one.

What makes soil judging fun is that it requires one to think. You must take what you've seen before, process it against what you see in the current situation, and make decisions. They're not life and death decisions - neither is making or missing a block in a football game if you're an athlete, but with every decision you make as a contestant, the student finds out what it's like to take a risk in the real world, and either be rewarded or penalized.

I'll probably keep volunteering until I can't get into the holes. Somedays, that's a challenge already. My kids think I'm a goofy old man, and maybe I am, but once in a while, in spite of themselves, I find them actually paying attention to what I say. In fact, they're getting good enough that they call me out if I try to slip something by them.

So if you're an athlete and good at it - go for it - be good. I wouldn't know a corner route in football if I saw it diagrammed out. Our football coach probably wouldn't know a soils pit from a hole in the ground, because that's what it would look like to him. But if he built a house someday, he might call one of the kids I've coached and say, "Hey, is this a good place to build a house?" If they can answer correctly, then I've done someone some good, and had fun along the way. See you in the pits - the state contest is coming soon.

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