Scroll to the bottom of this page to hear audio clips of three auctioneers from the World Livestock Auctioneer Championship quarterfinals in Zanesville, Ohio.
ZANESVILLE, Ohio — There was an anxious buzz in the air at the Muskingum Livestock Auction Co. Nov. 18.
In a small room at the back of the building, 28 auctioneers crowded together, each one waiting for his chance to take the auction block. Cameras, lights and microphones dotted the space as auctioneers entertained all kinds of questions:
How did you become interested in auctioneering? How long have you been at it? What do you like about it?
Some of the men stared in amazement at the commotion, others just smiled sheepishly at all the fuss.
JD Shelton had traveled more than 1,300 miles to get there; Rodney Paisley traveled less than 20. Will Epperly was the youngest at 19; many others had been in the auction block for 10 years by the time he was born. Some lounged around the room chatting with colleagues, others stood by themselves and quietly practiced their chant.
They came from different backgrounds, different states, different generations. But today, they were on the same playing field.
Today, they would compete in the World Livestock Auctioneer Championship quarterfinals. Eight would move on to the finals in Fergus Falls, Minn.
And everyone wanted to win.
The first World Livestock Auctioneer Championship was held in 1963 in the parking lot of a Denver hotel. Twenty-three contestants sold 20 head of cattle over and over and over.
Now, in its 46th year, the contest has refined itself a bit. It is organized by the Livestock Marketing Association in Kansas City, Mo., and there are four quarterfinal qualifying contests held throughout the U.S., with each contest sending its top eight auctioneers to the finals. The contest at the Muskingum Livestock Auction Co. was the third quarterfinal for the 2009 contest and an actual livestock sale where auctioneers moved more than 900 head of cattle through the ring.
Other quarterfinals were held Sept. 9 in Miles City, Mont., and Oct. 29 in Texhoma, Okla. The fourth will be Dec. 2 in Kingsville, Mo.
Auctioneers in the contest are evaluated by a panel of judges in the audience. Judges score each contestant on vocal clarity and quality, ability to keep the sale moving, personal expression and how quickly he catches bids. The judges, who are professional livestock dealers, also ask themselves the question, “Would I hire this auctioneer?”
To compete in the World Livestock Auctioneer Championship, auctioneers must be at least 18 and be employed and sponsored by a livestock market.
Rodney Paisley of Adamsville, Ohio, in Belmont County has been an auctioneer for nine years, but it’s been only about 18 months since he ventured into the world of livestock sales.
Yet he found himself standing shoulder to shoulder with some of the industry’s most experienced talent Nov. 18.
“Hell yeah, I’m nervous. Who wouldn’t be?” Paisley said while waiting for his turn in the ring.
Although it was his first time as a contestant, the auctioneer was no stranger to the contest or the other participants.
“I went to a lot of contests all over the country and watched these guys,” he said. “I never dreamed I’d be in it.”
During this quarterfinal contest, each auctioneer had only six to eight minutes to prove himself as one of the best — each contestant sold seven drafts of feeder calves and a bred female.
Auctioneer Rod Loomis of Hermitage, Pa., in Mercer County said the contest sale was somewhat different from a sale at his home facility in terms of buyers, protocol and, of course, the judges assessing every word.
But when he slipped into the auction block, he noticed something familiar. One face in the crowd jumped out and took the veteran auctioneer back to his first days in the ring.
Loomis was 11 when he went to auctioneer school and started selling cattle. There was a well-respected livestock dealer who’d been at Loomis’ earliest sales and here he was again, watching Loomis write another chapter in his career.
Watching and listening as the auctioneer pitted his skills against some of his most successful colleagues.
Each auctioneer arrived in Zanesville with intentions to win and each one gave it his best try. As they finished their turns and stepped out of the auction block, some were pleased with their performance, some thought they could’ve done better and some simply wondered where they could get lunch.
But eight had struck gold. Their cadence, their expressions, their bid catching — something they did had caught the judges’ attention.
Eight moved on to compete with the auctioneering industry’s most elite. Eight had what it takes to succeed. Eight had the perseverance, the patience, the practice to make it happen.
Brian Little of Wann, Okla., claimed the top spot after 10 years of participating in the contest. Second-place finisher Al Wessel said he’s been in the contest 12 or 13 times. And this year marked the seventh time that third place auctioneer Jeff Bynum of Southside, Ala., has competed for the title.
In previous contests, these men walked away with nothing. Other years, they narrowly missed being at the top of the pack. But year after year, they came back to test their abilities, to stake claim to their spot in the auction world.
They came back because they couldn’t stay away.
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