LEXINGTON — For the first time since 1997, the University of Kentucky Department of Agricultural Economics’ Academic Bowl team brought home the national championship.
The double elimination tournament was held at the Agricultural and Applied Economics Association’s annual meeting in Boston from July 31-Aug. 2 and featured 34 teams from 18 universities. The members of this year’s championship team are Erica Rogers, Daniella Straathof and April Winebarger. Will Fox, Megan Harper and Rachel Hart comprised the other team from the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
The team’s undefeated first place achievement follows last year’s runner-up performance at the event and several years of constant improvement under the guidance of Professor of Agricultural Economics Wuyang Hu and coach Jerrod Penn, a doctoral student.
The teams started practicing at the beginning of fall semester 2015 and met at least once a week throughout the year. Over the summer, because team members were separated by internships and summer jobs, they met online to continue their practices.
“This team has the passion, and their perseverance carried them through,” Hu said. “They’re tough, and they have a good team spirit.”
Though the team has always done well during competitions, finishing in first place this year meant something special to Rogers.
“To me, the most gratifying thing was to see all the hard work we put in the past few months paying off, especially because April and Daniella have graduated. They’ve been working on this for several years, so for me it was special to be part of this for them and help get them that win that they’ve been trying to get for so long,” said Rogers, who is a junior from Murray, Kentucky, with a major in agricultural economics and a minor in plant and soil sciences.
Straathof and Winebarger both graduated in May with bachelor’s degrees in agricultural economics. Competition rules allowed them to compete.
Academic bowl competitions carry many benefits besides the opportunity to take home a trophy. Students integrate material across the curricula, develop a nationwide professional peer network and experience professional conferences where they are often encouraged to enter graduate programs.
Leigh Maynard, chair of the UK Department of Agricultural Economics, said he is proud of the students performing so well at the highest level.
“It requires long hours of training over multiple years, teamwork and trust and mental toughness under pressure. We are also proud to see the results of years of coaching effort and high expectations. Jerrod is (UK) Ag Econ’s version of Martha Karolyi — rigorous and supportive,” he said, referring to the famously tough coach of the gold medal-winning U.S. women’s gymnastics team.
“Jerrod is a fantastic coach for us, and we definitely could not have done this without him; he really deserves a lot of the credit for this,” Rogers said. “He made sure we stayed motivated, and he expected big things from us; I think of him as a mentor after this whole process. He has a lot of passion for what he does.”
Penn and Hu have spearheaded the ag economics teams since 2011.
“I am most impressed in the way they played, truly exceeding my expectations of how much they knew and how much they trusted and relied on each other in each match,” Penn said. “I am happy for Erica, the eager and worthy new recruit, and for Daniella and April, the two already-graduated seniors, I am pleased they can end their UK careers on top. I am thankful to them all for enduring the many hours of practice — they worked for and earned the championship — and for sharing the memory with me as a coach and friend.”