By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
POCATELLO – There’s a lot of reward in growing up on a ranch or farm in Idaho but there’s also a lot of hard work involved. Same with high school sports: big rewards but lots of work.
Combine the two, and you have plenty of rewards but an incredible amount of hard work.
High school students who work on a farm or ranch and are also heavily involved in high school sports or other extracurricular activities pay a huge price in energy and time commitment.
Mackay High School senior Dallin Green, 17, is captain of the school’s football and basketball teams and also plays baseball for the school, all while continuing to work on a local ranch.
He is also student body president, the local FFA president and he will be the school’s valedictorian this year.
How does he balance all that?
“You just kind of power through it,” he says. “We were raised, you have to work and you can’t quit your job.”
Green and his twin brother, Caleb, who also plays those same sports and works on the same ranch, didn’t grow up on a farm but got a ranch job their freshman year and now work there full-time, around their school commitments. Both say they wouldn’t trade the opportunity for anything.
“I have never had any regrets about getting into that ranch job, at all,” says Caleb Green, who is vice president of the Mackay High School student council and treasurer of his FFA chapter. “Never.”
The two start a typical school day lifting weights and working out at 5:30 a.m., then after school they usually end up helping a Mackay resident or two with some odd chores. Then it’s off to practice for a few hours and then it’s homework time.
How do they balance all that?
“I get asked that all the time,” Caleb Green says. “We’re kids and we have a lot of energy.”
Down in Declo, in the Magic Valley area of Idaho, Tyler Andersen keeps plenty busy helping out in several capacities on his family’s 2,000-head dairy. His many duties include eliminating weeds, taking care of the water troughs, helping with pregnancy checks and keeping the facility clean.
He also runs cross country and plays basketball for Declo High School and is learning to play the piano and ukulele.
A typical school day means getting up at 6 a.m., doing chores, getting to school early for band practice, and going through what Andersen calls “the daily grind” of school. Then it’s off to cross country practice, then home to do homework and study the piano.
Andersen, 16 and a junior, says it takes a lot of energy and commitment to balance the workload but the way he sees it, he’s young and has the energy reserves to do it.
“It’s just about time management. I survive,” he says.
Andersen has no regrets about having to work on the family’s dairy.
“I like the opportunities it gives me to learn hard work,” he says.
When Jordyn Gilbert is not staying busy doing a variety of work around her family’s 700-cow dairy and farm near Blackfoot, the 16-year-old Snake River High School junior plays on the school’s basketball and volleyball teams.
Her typical day starts at 5 a.m., when she puts in some time on the family dairy, including helping take care of about 120 weaning calves. Then it’s off to school for seven hours, followed by a two-hour sports practice.
“By the end of the day, sometimes you’re like, ‘Wow, I’m tired. I could fall asleep standing here,’” she says. “But that’s just how it is when you’re busy all the time. I sleep good at night.”
She says that while the balancing act is difficult at times, “It’s kind of just a mindset that I have: the work has to be done.”
Her basketball coach, Jeff Steadman, grew up on a dairy farm and says he can relate to what Gilbert goes through to play sports and work on a dairy.
“Jordyn is an exceptional young lady and she does a great job of balancing the two,” he says.
Andersen, Gilbert and the Green brothers all said that getting a solid night’s sleep is critical in being able to handle the workload of playing sports, going to school and working on the farm.
“I think sleep is the most important thing,” says Caleb Green. “If I don’t get a full eight hours, then the productivity is down the next day.”
Jordyn Gilbert says she always tries to get to bed at 9 p.m. and wake up at 5 a.m.
“When I get eight hours of sleep, I wake up refreshed,” she says. “I feel like when you get eight hours of sleep, it’s the perfect amount.”
Dallin Green says having the proper diet is another important factor.
“A huge part of it is eating healthy,” he says. “It helps that we live in a small town that doesn’t have a lot of fast food. You have to eat breakfast and you have to eat healthy.”
Gilbert, Andersen and the Green brothers all said the thought of quitting either sports or work on the farm has never seriously entered their mind.
“I’ve never, ever thought about quitting sports or my ranching job,” Dallin Green says.
Gilbert’s father, Kelly Gilbert, who also grew up on a dairy and played high school sports, says he and his wife, Emilee, would never think of asking one of their children to choose between sports and working on the dairy.
“I’ve told them, I appreciate everything you do on the farm and that you’re willing to help out here on the dairy, but you are a student-athlete right now,” he says. “You’re a student first, an athlete second and any time after that that you want to work and help us on the farm, you’re more than welcome to do it.
“I told them, your school and athletic stuff is first. Achieve everything you can achieve while you’re young because you’re only going to have that opportunity once.”
Tyler Andersen’s mother, Robbie Andersen, says she feels he and his other seven siblings are lucky to have the opportunity to grow up on a dairy farm and play school sports.
“I’m really happy that my kids get to grow up on a dairy,” she says. “I like seeing them learn to manage their time at a young age. I love it that my kids have this opportunity.”
Robbie Andersen says she and her husband, Ben, will encourage all their children to stay involved in sports while they are in school.
“We enjoy that and look forward to when they are involved in a sport,” she says. “We encourage it for sure.”
Besides their parents, farm kids in Idaho heavily involved in high school sports generally receive a lot of support from their coaches and schools as well, says Shane Stevenson, a former FFA teacher from Meridian who now farms full-time.
In general, most schools in rural areas really understand the need for some kids to work on their family farm operation, even when involved in sports, he says.
“Some school districts and coaches totally get what’s going on but in some places, usually in bigger cities, it’s all or nothing and the coaches won’t let a kid miss practice, even for work,” Stevenson says.
Dallin Green says the entire Mackay community is supportive of kids who work on farms and play school sports.
“The coaches understand and your bosses around here are very understanding, too,” he said.
Tyler Andersen says most people involved in sports in his school are also involved in agriculture in some way even if it’s only moving pipe during the summer. Some of them have to miss some summer tournaments and practices because of that but people in the community get why they need to, he says.
“They understand,” he says.