September and October around my house are known as soil judging season. I volunteer as the soils coach for local 4-H and FFA teams in the evenings and on weekends. If I wasn't busy writing things for you to read and didn't enjoy it so much, I might be a soil scientist. It's fascinating how the good Lord placed with here in recognizable ways, and how no two are the same, just like people.
It's also useful information, especially if you're buying a farm. You want to find out before the sale, not after, that the 120 acres you just bought has sand and gravel at 30 inches. No wonder the contending bidder finally laughed and walked away!
And you want to know what are the odds your septic system will fail if you build a beautiful new home in somewhat poorly drained soil to raise your family of six, relying on trenches, without investing in a mound drainage system. Yet so many people don't know either of these things. It's one reason why I feel I'm giving my time to something worthwhile.
The second reason is the kids. I love working with middle school and high school kids. It's rewarding to see how they bloom if they concentrate, yet disappointing to see how they wither on the vine if they don't make the commitment. I always try, but drive and commitment aren't something you can teach. You can set an example, but you can't flip open a lid on the back on their heads and pour it in. Some of it must come from them.
And the third reason, to be honest, is that I'm, competitive. I love to compete, and I'm no good at sports. This is the closest I will get to coaching something competitive. It's a rewarding feeling to see the awesome smile on the face of a 7th grader or even a sophomore who has worked hard and who either wins or places well in a contest.
We practiced at least twice a week, including three hours every Sunday night, probably seeing 40 soil pits. Neighbors and parents dug holes for us. Each week a different family would host us, and the mom would be in charge of putting together a meal for us. That's great for building togetherness and enthusiasm. Parents like to see their kids show passion for something, and that something doesn't always have to be sports.
The goal is to do well in the area contest, which we did. That qualifies you for the state, where over 300 kids compete. The coveted prize is a trip to Oklahoma for the top five teams in 4-H and the top five teams in FFA in the high school division. We've done that three times in the past 10 years. This wouldn't be one of those times.
The kids worked hard, but the sand dunes of Vincennes, compacted by the drought that makes even sand look hard, did them in. Primarily our northern counterparts, from places like Huntington and Miami County, who see sand regularly, took home the hardware.
By Sunday morning after the contest, the disappointment for the coach fades. The sun comes up, the kids are young, the state contest will be in our area next year, and God willing, we will live to fight another day. But it's the end of the season and this coach is exhausted, so tired I snoozed off on my grandson's birthday party Sunday afternoon. And more telling, family members felt so sorry for me they didn't even wake me when I started snoring!
FFA and 4-H are like sports in another way - seasons overlap. Crops judging practice was already underway. The next evening I relaxed while my daughter, Ashley, did most of the real coaching - now I know what the Indianapolis Colts' coach Jim Caldwell is really doing on the sidelines - just hanging out!
Anyway, one of the soil judgers from the high school team judges crops as well. As he prepared to leave after practice, he said, "See you tomorrow evening, Mr. Bechman"
Wait a minute, Cody, I thought, we don't practice crops until Wednesday night. "What do you mean see me tomorrow night?"
"Oh, we're still going to do soils once a week, aren't we? Tuesday is our practice night. I want to be ready to go for it next year!"
"No, Cody, we're putting our slopefinders away for awhile. This old coach needs a rest."
Soil judging is one of my most revered passions. But even I need a break once in a while. Give the kid 'E' for enthusiasm, though. Let's hope it's still there next Sept 1, when the whole process starts over again.