Parsons, Kansas —
His breath froze in the air as he entered through the cooler door. Skillfully, he stepped his steel-toe boots through a moving line of hanging beef carcasses known to knock passerbys to the ground.
Turning around, he yelled to a small army resembling the Michelin Tire Man in knee-length coats and bright white frocks, “Practice with your quality grade cards while I number off a yield grade class.”
For the past 11 years, this has been a familiar scene to Ryan “Edge” Edgecomb, Meats Coach at Fort Scott Community College (FSCC) in Fort Scott, Kan. He coached a Reserve National Champion team in 2006, National Champion teams in 2010 and 2012 and the 2013 Reserve National Champion team.
In December, Edge is hanging up his hard hat and turning the meats team over to new leadership.
“I always said when I lose the burning passion to get on the road, I would step down,” Edge explained. “I’m still going be excited about contests and the team, but it’s time to let someone new take over and focus on other responsibilities.”
Edge started meats judging in high school at Williamsburg, Kan. In 1993 he took a judging scholarship at Coffeyville Community College before transfering to Kansas State University and competing on their 1996 meats team. He went on to teach high school ag and coach meats for five years in Quinter, Kan., before coming to FSCC in 2003.
With an average of 40 days on the road a year and a 20,000-mile beaten path, Edge can easily navigate his way from Texas to South Dakota over to Wyoming without glancing at a map.
He’s been inside 13 beef, pork and lamb packing plants and 11 university meat labs, knowing his way around every one.
“The Tyson plant in Amarillo or the Cargill plant in Schuyler, Neb., has the best cafeteria food,” he said. “Amarillo sure can make a good plate of nachos.”
Aside from his team’s success, Edge has a reputation of coaching successful individuals, including Hunter Moore, Eureka, Kan., who placed high individual at the 2013 Cargill High Plains National Champion Contest in Friona, Texas, on Nov. 3. Moore and fellow teammate, Emily Bedwell, New Richmond, Ind., were named All-Americans. Bedwell placed third high individual.
The 2013 team, who Edge nicknamed, “The Mighty Four,” took Reserve National Champion at the High Plains Contest.
“This is the smallest team I have ever had, but that’s okay because they all delivered,” Edge said. “I just prayed no one ever got sick and had to miss a contest.”
In addition to Moore, Bedwell, the team includes Shelby Rush, Jasper, Mo., and Tabitha Kedigh, Urich, Mo.
The Mighty Four remained consistent throughout their judging season, never falling below third at a single contest. They were second at the National Western in Denver, Colorado, Southwestern in Fort Worth, Texas, Beef Empire in Garden City, Kan., and the American Royal in Omaha, Neb. The team took third at Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
A large part of Edge’s success is recruitment of students with potential.
“I’ve gotten pretty good at reading students right away and knowing if I can shape them to be successful,” he said. Edge has been known to recruit students who have never been inside a meat cooler before and turn them into All-American judgers.
“I’ve become a better coach by learning how to teach my own philosophy and theories of meats judging,” he added. “It has paid off to be very beneficial.”
Once he formally steps down in December, Edge will continue teaching classes at FSCC and work to make progress on the school’s meat lab.
Based soley on donations, FSCC is in the planning stages of a student-operated, education meat lab that will custom harvest up to 20 head a day. The lab will be USDA inspected so meat sales can legally go across state lines.
“As soon as we get enough donations, we’ll start breaking ground,” explained Edge. “The educational opportunities this will give our students will advance them far above other community colleges.”
When asked about his greatest experiences as a coach, Edge said it was easily the relationships he built with his judgers.
“They come in here as fairly immature, 18-year-old students, and I get to see them mature and grow for two years,” he continued. “By the time they leave here, I consider them all friends.”
As FSCC looks for a new coach, no one will be able to replace Edge, but they can continue to build on his growing legacy. £