The Illinois State University Department of Agriculture took 27 students to the North American Colleges and Teachers of Agriculture (NACTA) Student Judging Conference at Murray State University in Murray, Kentucky April 10-13. Illinois State University competed in 10 out of the 15 competitions and placed in the top three in 8 of the 10 contests.

This was ISU’s first time back competing at NACTA in several years and it was due to tremendous alumni support that ISU was able to take such a large group of students. In reference to all of the students working together for this competition, Coach Jennifer Earing stated, “As great as it was to see our students successfully competing in an academic contest, it was even more meaningful to see them come together as a group to support each other’s teams.”

NACTA allowed ISU students to be able to apply what they have been learning in classes in a competition setting. It gave them an opportunity to use their skills and knowledge in a fun way, all while being a part of the success ISU had at the NACTA Student Judging Conference.

When asked about her experience at NACTA, agriculture major Mariah Dietz says “NACTA helped me get out of my comfort zone and do something I have never experienced before. I was able to apply everything I have learned, and I saw how much more I actually knew than I thought I did.”

Because of the hard work of students and coaches, the conference ended in ISU being awarded the Reserve Grand Champion of the Sweepstakes. To qualify for the Sweepstakes, universities had to compete in at least eight competitions and the institution that scored highest overall in the team competitions won.

In addition to many team placings, ISU also had individuals place in the top three as well. Bethany Wohrley placed 1st overall in agricultural computers, and the drones/unmanned aircraft systems division of precision agriculture. Sam Smoode placed 3rd overall in horse judging. The livestock judging team was very strong and had three students on the team place in the top three individually. Garret Doyle was 2nd place overall, Wade Hutchens was 3rd place overall, and Matt Miller was 2nd place for the livestock judging reasons team.

All of ISU’s results are posted below along with each member of the teams:

Agricultural Communications:

Members: Maddie Cender, Dawn Irwin, Sara Pratt, Jacey Wickenhauser

2nd place team overall; Individual placings: Jacey Wickenhauser, 4th place, Sara Pratt, 5th place

Agricultural Computers:

Members: Cole Blankenship, Brady Dowson, Austin Norris, Bethany Wohrley

Individual placings: Bethany Wohrley, 1st place

Crops Judging:

Members: Cole Blankenship, Brady Dowson, Nathan Elliot, Austin Norris, Zachary Ripple, Bethany Wohrley

Dairy Judging:

Members: Wade Hutchens, Emily Jahnke, Delaney Meloy, Dylan Moyer

3rd place team overall

Dairy Reasons team: 3rd place team overall


Members: Mariah Dietz, Kaylynn Donelson, Emma Nicholas, Sam Smoode

3rd place team overall

Horse Judging:

Members: Mariah Dietz, Kaylynn Donelson, Emma Nicholas, Sam Smoode

3rd place team overall

Individual placings: Sam Smoode, 3rd place

Knowledge Bowl:

Members: Sarah Irwin, Sara Pratt, Zachary Ripple, Jacey Wickenhauser

3rd place team overall

Livestock Judging:

Members: Keegan Bertsche, Trent Bertsche, Maddie Cender, Garrett Doyle, Wade Hutchens, Delaney Meloy, Matt Miller

1st place team overall

Individual placings: Garret Doyle 2nd place; Wade Hutchens 3rd place, Maddie Cender, 4th place

Livestock Judging Reasons team: 2nd place team overall

Individual placings: Matt Miller, 2nd place

Livestock Management:

Members: Sarah Irwin, Nathan McKeon, Jessica Scholtes, Emma West

3rd place team overall

Individual placings: Nathan McKeon, 5th place

Precision Agriculture:

Members: Cole Blankenship, Brady Dowson, Nathan Elliot, Austin Norris, Zachary Rippel, Bethany Wohrley

2nd place team overall

Individual placings: Bethany Wohrley, 1st place in UAS/drones; Zach Ripple, 2nd place in spraying; Austin Norris, 5th place in planting; Cole Blankenship 3rd in harvesting; Brady Dowson, 5th place in harvesting

The coaches for each team consisted of faculty from the Department of Agriculture and included: Jennifer Earing, Nicholas Heller, Drew Lugar, Cori Malone, and Dave Malone. When asked about the department’s performance, Coach Drew Lugar said, “We had high hopes for ISU’s return to the NACTA competition, but I would have to say the students exceeded even our lofty expectations. This was a fantastic trip for our students and department.”

The ISU Department of Agriculture is looking forward to returning to the NACTA Judging Conference next year at Ft. Hayes State University in Hays, Kansas, and continuing to excel in the competition.