Young achievers are masters of meat

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EASTON, Kan. -- The next time you grill a steak or pork chop or do some barbecue, you might want to have this week's Fox 4 Young Achievers go along with you to the store to buy your meat. They are experts at judging the quality of beef, pork and lamb. They are Kansas state champions who are soon to hit the trail for the national FFA convention in Louisville, KY, determined to show they are the best in the country at it.

A team of teenagers has gotten to know the big walk-in freezer at Smitty's Butcher Shop and Easton Meat Locker very well. The owners have let them come in often to take good, long looks at the big sides of beef hanging there.

"It takes practice to get your eyes adjusted to the rib eye size," said team member Leah Parsons, a senior at Pleasant Ridge High School in Easton.

In here, the student meticulously fill out grading sheets, thoroughly assessing the meat for quality and yield and even estimating how much the beef would be worth.

"There's not a lot of fat cover up there and that's a good sign," said Leah's brother, Galen Parson, who graduated from Pleasant Ridge last spring. "Down here on the rib eye there's a fair amount of fat here. Not extreme but more than you'd like to see."

The trips to the locker plant are part of the extensive training and studying four students from Pleasant Ridge High have done to become Kansas champions of a FFA career development competitive event called Meats Evaluation and Technology.

"We more commonly refer to it as Meats Judging," said Leah.

The students learn and master in-depth facts and information that experts in the food industry and government inspectors and regulators have to know, including laws and regulations.

"Well, it's a lot of memorization," laughs team member Kristina Silvers, also a Pleasant Ridge senior. And they even know how to select the best and most economical cuts of meat and prepare them for top flavor and safety and health.

"A lot of study time," said Leah.

"Lots of practice," said Kristina.

"Experience," said Leah. Although they graduated in the spring, Galen and Jacob Allen, who couldn't make the drill session the day Fox 4 News visited, are still eligible to be on the team when they go to the national FFA career development competition later this month.

"There's 95 cuts of meat they have to learn," said the team's instructor and coach, Gary Silvers. He's also Kristina's dad.

"There is a lot of pressure involved in it," said Silvers. "And it's just unbelievable the amount of information these kids have store in their heads that they have to recall and you don't know what part of it you're going to have to do that day."

Like any champions, this team owes its success to dedication and commitment. No detail is too small to master. And each member of the team rises to the challenge of the pressure of competition to boost the other.

"They're always trying to improve each other and be in their corner," said Silvers in admiration. And it's not like they have nothing else to do.

"These kids, they carry an unbelievable workload," said Silvers. "They're heavily involved in school, their community, their 4-H Club. They work hard."

The Pleasant Ridge High meats judging team has won or done very well in numerous big competitions besides Kansas FFA. And they were state champion runners-up last year. They have some important warmup events at the American Royal and Kansas State University this month before national FFA at the end of the month.

Fox 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.