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Sunday, July 5, 2015

Thank You Jerry!



It was the first week of June.  I had just driven over 3 hours south into Oklahoma pulling a trailer with the youngest calf we had that was halter broke.  We arrived at Conners State College in Warner, Oklahoma and it was 98*.  The humidity had you sweating as soon as you stepped out of the truck.  Why on earth would not only me, but parents to 120+ other kids unload the truck and trailer of kids and cattle and leave them in that heat for 4 days?  Why would we leave them to work in a barn with no air conditioning?  Why would we leave them when we knew the schedule had them at the barn at 7:45 am working and busy until 11:00 pm?  Just a three words… Be A Champ.

For 35 years, Jerry McPeak has been a motivator and mentor to thousands of kids from all across North America.  From what I can tell, the stories and speeches haven’t changed much over the last 25 years.  You see because of a great friend that lived in Oklahoma I found out about this camp where kids were taught how to clip, fit and show cattle.  I think I was one of the first kids from Kansas to ever go.  Some 25+ years later, I look at the camp totally different.

Jerry says he doesn’t understand why his camp is more successful than others.  He doesn’t understand why kids from 15 states were in Oklahoma the same week my son was to sweat their tails off.  As a parent and past camper, I can tell you.  When you walk in that rodeo arena at Conners State College, everyone is equal.  It doesn’t matter if your calf came out of your dad’s commercial cow herd or was purchased for $50000.  Everyone is treated the same.  He believes that every one of his campers can and will get better.  Every single one of them will believe at the end of the week that they can do great things.  Every single one of them comes out of the camp changed.

No parents are allowed to stay at the camp, because guess what?!  The kids ARE capable of taking care of their calves without someone hovering over them.  They are able to actually get a calf ready to go to the show ring without an adults help.  I have heard they are capable of repairing tents when 65 mile per hour winds tear them down. 

The campers are put in groups based on their age and then they are paired with a partner who they are responsible for all week.  The kids do learn how to clip, fit and show cattle, but they learn so much more.  They learn a bit of work ethic.  They learn that they are capable of so much more than they have convinced their parents they are.  

A word of warning though.  If your kid can’t take getting yelled at, they might not like it.  If they don’t like getting a hug, they might not like it.  It is very possible that both will happen within 5 minutes of one another…just like at home.  They know how to push the kids to get them to us their talents to perform to their potential.

Jerry’s staff are all adults that went through the camp like I did.  In fact, one of the group leaders the week my son was there was one of my partners.  Matt was actually my favorite partner.  After camp, we kept in touch and actually travelled to one another’s county fairs to help one another fit cattle.  He even helped me find my heifer to show the next year.  My son reports he is a bit onery which hasn’t changed over the years.  If I remember correctly, Matt started going to camp when he was seven years old.  He has missed one year of camp in all of those years.  That is dedication to the future of agriculture for a rancher from Pawnee, Oklahoma that leaves his ranch behind for a week each summer.   

My son’s partner won the award that I never won.  The most coveted award of all Be A Champ campers, The Effort Award.  My son who works at his own pace (not fast) was probably pushed a little by this go getter.  As I watched them fit their calf the last day, I knew he had what it took to get The Effort Award.  He had drive.  He had desire.  I hope a little of it rubbed off on my son.   

That sweet boy even gave my son the showstick he won in showmanship, because the Effort Award was what is was most proud of.  Stone Manufacturing has donated prizes to the campers over the years.  I remember the week I attended when the owner of the company visited all week.  He is a former NFL football player that believes that all NFL players should have to live through Be A Champ before they can play in the pros.  Jerry runs a "tight ship," but also knows how to let the kids have fun, too.

After hearing about camp, my youngest is ready to go next year and I am ready to send him with his brother.  Don’t be fooled this camp isn’t just about showing cattle (or lambs) this camp is about building the future of agriculture.  What I saw in that barn that hot, muggy Saturday has me optimistic about the future of agriculture all across this country.

Thank you Jerry for continuing to believe in kids and give them the opportunity to prove themselves to their parents.  Thank you for continuing to provide a camp so I can sit back like my parents used to and enjoy the livestock shows.  We will be back next year.