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High level of competition expected at auction championship

FERGUS FALLS -- Tough competition will be nothing new for the 33 semi-finalists in Livestock Marketing Association's World Livestock Auctioneer Championship, to be held June 13 at the Fergus falls Livestock Auction Market.

Thirty-two auctioneers made it into the annual WLAC through four championship qualifying contests, held last fall by LMA. The top eight scorers in each contest moved on to Fergus Falls.

The 33rd contestant is Peter Raffan of Armstrong, British Columbia. He is the current international auctioneer champion. The winner of the Canadian contest traditionally receives a "bye" into the semi-finals from the LMA.

Whether they're veterans or relative newcomers to the WLAC, now in its 46th year, the auctioneers expect the June competition to be at a very high level.

Ty Thompson of Billings, Mont., who won the first qualifying contest Sept. 9 in Miles City, Mont., will enter the auction block June 13 as the reigning world runner-up. He has also won the reserve world champion title (i.e., second place) twice, and has been a top 10 finalist seven times.

As Thompson sees it, the competition gets "stronger and stronger" each year. He believes that's because "every year, we get new, talented auctioneers who do a good job in the contest."

Asked what he thinks are the most important qualities of a champion auctioneer, Thompson said, "Most important is to be at ease with the crowd, remember your number one priority is getting top dollar for the consignor."

It's also important, he said, "to have a very good working knowledge of the industry."

Nick Caspers of Hecla, S.D., made it to Fergus Falls as one of the top eight scorers in the last qualifying contest, held Dec. 2 in Kingsville, Mo. This year is just his second in the contest, and the first time he's moved on to the WLAC.

And while Caspers, 26, has been an auctioneer for just five years, "I consider myself a student of the profession," he said. Caspers has been to two auction schools, and has competed "about a dozen times" in state and regional auctioneer contests as well as the WLAC.

From his perspective -- which includes repeatedly watching DVDs and listening to recordings of past WLACs -- the contest "is always the top competition there is. It gets stronger every year," he said.

Asked about his preparation for Fergus Falls, Caspers said, "I'll go back and look at every score sheet I've ever got, from every competition I've ever been in. Areas where I was rated low, I'll try and improve."

The "absolutely" most important part for an auctioneer "is getting a positive answer" to the question the judges ask about each contestant, "Would I hire this auctioneer to work at my business?"

Al Wessel, 55, of Long Prairie, Minn., will be at Fergus Falls after being named reserve champion at the third qualifying contest, held Nov. 18 in Zanesville, Ohio.

He's also a veteran contestant, having entered the WLAC "12 or 13 times," been a finalist "half a dozen times," and a runner-up world champion twice.

By the time you make it through the qualifying contests to WLAC, Wessel said, "You're competing against the best there is."

He said he's lucky "to have the only job I ever wanted." Even after being an auctioneer for 37 years, "it's a learning experience every day," he added. Wessel listens as often as he can to tapes of past champions, "because you want to pick up some tips from the very best every day if you can."

Another relative newcomer to the WLAC is Tanner Ragan of Sulphur Springs, Texas. This year is just the second time he's entered, and he qualified by finishing among the top eight scorers at Texhoma, Okla., on Oct. 29.

While he said he won't do anything special to prepare for Fergus Falls, he did get some advice from another Sulphur Springs resident -- 1988 World Champion Joe Don Pogue. Ragan auctioneers each Monday at the Sulphur Springs Livestock Auction, where Pogue is vice president.

Pogue's advice? "Just do what you do. Don't try and change anything, and just be yourself.

While this will be his first time in the WLAC -- known as the "World Series" and "Superbowl" of the profession, Ragan, 27, said he doesn't feel intimidated. "No, not one bit," he said. "I don't mean that to sound arrogant, but I am confident in my ability."

The semi-finalists are scored by six judges on two elements: A live interview during LMA's annual meeting on June 12, and as they sell several drafts of cattle during the actual sale at the market on the 13th.

The top 10 contestants, as determined by their combined interview and selling skills, then return to the auction block for a final round of selling. The three titlists, world, reserve and runner-up champion -- are announced at an awards banquet on the evening of the 13th.

Tye Casey, Plymouth, Ind., has replaced previously announced semi-finalist Eli Detweiler, Jr., of Ruffin, N.D., who withdrew for personal reasons. Contest rules stipulate that the next-highest scoring contestant in the quarterfinal contest where Detweiler qualified -- Zanesville, Ohio -- moves into the semi-finals, and that was Casey.

LMA conducts the WLAC to spotlight competitive livestock marketing, and the auctioneer's continuing role in that process. LMA is North America's largest membership organization dedicated to supporting, representing and communicating with and for the entire livestock marketing sector.