Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
June 27, 1997

Coaching the champs

by Steve Jones

What do Lute Olson and Brad Skaar have in common? They're both tall men who coached their teams to national collegiate championships this year.

Olson led the University of Arizona to the NCAA Division I men's basketball title. Skaar is an ISU associate professor of animal science who coached a group of 14 men and women to the United National Collegiate Meat Animal Evaluation Contest. The event is considered the national championship of livestock judging.

ISU animal science students enjoy the annual competition, which takes place in March. They also learn a great deal, Skaar said.

"The competition allows students to see the livestock and meat industry from one end to the other -- from the farm to the fork," Skaar said. "We use the contest to augment the meat animal evaluation course."

ISU roared past runner-up University of Illinois for the championship, the university's second animal science national title in 1996-97. Another ISU team won the 1996 American Royal Intercollegiate Meat Judging Contest in November. That group is coached by animal scientist F.C. Parrish.

Skaar's students compete in four areas. In the breeding, market animal and meats divisions, students must make decisions similar to those facing livestock producers or buyers. For example, students will interpret genetic evaluations, rank carcass quality or price retail cuts of meat.

"It's a direct extension of what they will do in their careers," Skaar noted.

The fourth area involves communication. Students must analyze a contemporary issue facing the meat industry, such as use of growth hormones, from the viewpoint of the producer, packer and consumer.

Skaar and the students spend a lot of time preparing for the competition, which includes beef, pork and lamb divisions. They "practice" on campus and visit area packing plants. Many of the students come from farm backgrounds. But Skaar said the city kids may enjoy the competition even more.

"It's really new to them," he said.

Skaar gained his interest in animals as a child growing up on a small family ranch near Boulder, Colo. On the ranch, which since has been swallowed by urban growth, he raised cattle, horses and some hogs and sheep as 4-H projects.

As an undergraduate at Colorado State University, Skaar planned to be a veterinarian, until an animal science professor, Robert Taylor, asked him to consider animal breeding and genetics. Taylor, a former ISU faculty member, said Iowa State was a good school and Skaar should consider going there.

Skaar arrived in Ames in 1979 and started down a new career path. He became the livestock judging team coach as a graduate assistant, then joined the faculty after earning his M.S. and Ph.D. degrees.

Skaar started with a 100 percent Extension appointment, but now splits his time evenly between teaching and youth animal science programs. He said teaching is his main interest, which helps explain why Dennis Marple, animal science department head, calls Skaar an outstanding teacher.

"Brad has excellent skills in working with students, prospective students and their parents," Marple said.

Skaar works a lot with high school-age students while helping coordinate 4-H youth livestock programs. He's also involved with cattle and pork producer youth groups and community college livestock programs.

"It's a nice tie to my role as a teacher," Skaar explained. "It gives me a lot of opportunities to meet young people who are considering coming to Iowa State. They get to know someone at Iowa State in the animal science department."

Because students can compete only once in the national collegiate meat animal evaluation contest, don't look for returning competitors to lead ISU to another title. Skaar must rebuild the team each year. Perhaps "reload" is a more appropriate term.

"I always have a pretty strong group to work with," he said.

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