It seems like a typical class in the Stock Show’s Junior Heifer Show.
The young competitors are slowly leading their Santa Gertrudis heifers around the indoor arena under the watchful eye of judge Ryan Cotton, taking care to keep their heads up and their feet straight to make a good impression.
But something is different.
Is the competitor taking a red ribbon for second place in the class Sunday really wearing sunglasses?
Yes. But Josh Hass, a 16-year-old sophomore at Alba-Golden High School, isn’t just trying to be cool in his stylish shades. He wears them because he is the only competitor in the class who is blind.
“In 2011, he was a passenger on a side-by-side UTV that flipped. He suffered a severe head injury, and his optic nerves were damaged. As a result, he is totally blind,” said Josh’s mother, Paula Hass of Alba.
But if that is slowing Josh down any, it certainly doesn’t show.
“Every time the doors open on the van or bus at school, he’s on it. He doesn’t hold back,” said Robert Reynolds, an agriculture teacher at Alba-Golden who is at the Stock Show with Josh and eight other students on his show team.
“There’s some limitations. But he’s in there brushing and washing and doing whatever needs to be done. He’s a special kid for us.”
In the show ring, Josh gets some assistance from another exhibitor, Emily Mullins.
“I’m a senior on the show team and I’ve been on the team the longest, so I get the honor of leading Josh around the ring,” said Mullins, 17, who is also a student at Alba-Golden.
“And she’s our best showman,” Reynolds said.
Hass and Mullins have worked out a system that allows Hass to properly control his heifer, Maybelina, in the ring.
“She tells him what foot to move by number. So she’ll tell him to move No. 2 and he knows which leg to adjust,” Reynolds said.
And Hass is no one-trick pony. He also participates in another ag-related competition.
“He’s on the state-qualifying dairy foods team, which is all about taste. He’s been to state two years in a row on that,” said Reynolds, referring to contests that require students to evaluate milk samples, identify cheeses, and distinguish between real and artificial dairy products, among other tasks.
Hass, who seems to always be displaying a big smile, is a man of few words.
Ask him why he got into showing cattle last year and he says, “I really don’t know. It’s kind of fun.”
But ask what he likes to do when he is not showing cattle and he has an answer that might surprise some: “Hunting and fishing,” he said, his grin growing broader.
Laser-based technologies, Reynolds said, allow Hass to hunt, with some assistance.
Paula Hass believes that showing cattle, which Josh Hass plans to continue doing next year, has been good for her son.
“He was big in football” before the accident, she said. “This is something he can do. And it allows him to keep in contact with his friends.”
But, although Mom believes that the show team benefits Josh, Reynolds sees it the other way around.
“I’m not saying we don’t think about it, but he is just part of what we do,” Reynolds said. “He’s better for us than we are for him.”