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Dairy bowl coach of national champions shares mission, success

Jaclyn Krymowski for Progressive Dairyman Published on 09 June 2017
Arelas with 2016 national champion senior dairy bowl team

It’s an agriculture tradition as old as dirt itself – teaching and preparing the next generation of farmers, advocates and industry leaders for the world they will inherit.

Kirsten Areias, coach of the California junior and senior national dairy bowl teams, takes this belief to heart, making it her life’s work. With six years of national championships under her belt, anyone would say it’s certainly been a success. But her mission, Areias says, goes far beyond that.

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Areias, who owns and operates a registered Holstein dairy with her husband in Los Banos, California, got into coaching when her kids wanted to try something a little different: the Holstein Foundation’s dairy quiz bowl contest.

From the beginning, Areias recognized coaching as being about her own learning as much as it was teaching. Her mentor, Carol McComb, creator of the national dairy jeopardy contest, helped her start.

“I loved her attitude, her spirit and her kindness with the kids from the first time our paths crossed,” Areias says. “Without her, much of the success I have had as a coach probably would not have been realized.”

Areias continued her involvement with dairy bowl even after her own kids no longer competed. “As time went by, I was working with kids who were becoming more and more driven to win,” Areias says. “Their enthusiasm was catchy. The more they wanted to learn, the more I wanted to teach.”

It wasn’t long before both coach and teams set the bar very high – to seriously compete on the national level. They achieved this elusive feat in 2007 when they made it to the finals at that year’s national Holstein convention in Knoxville, Tennessee.

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“After that, it just took off,” Areias says. “The kids knew it was possible to get into the finals, and the very next year, we had a national championship team.”

Coaching a set of kids, from various backgrounds, ages and experiences, from the county to national level is no easy task. “It has become my life’s work,” Areias says. “I start in the fall with county teams, compete in January with them at the state Holstein convention and then prepare the national kids for competition at the national convention in June/July. (I take) a few months off and then repeat.”

Kirsten Areias is pictured with her 2016 national champion junior dairy bowl team.

The investment she and her teams make looks toward a lot more than winning a title. Areias says she makes her teams’ end goals about the experiences, new opportunities and the encounters with like-minded young dairy enthusiasts across the nation.

Tony Lopes, a fourth-generation dairy farmer and former team member of eight years, recalls what made her stand apart from other coaches. “Kirsten recognized the ambition and drive of the whole team,” he says. “She pushed us to work harder and ask our own questions.”

Lopes says Areias went beyond using standard study packets given to all the teams. Her method was to get her kids to think for themselves, read outside material and keep asking questions. She even created “boot camp weekends” where the teams go out and spend an entire weekend studying and preparing for the nationals. “I haven’t heard of any other coach doing that,” he says.

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Lopes, now a third-year dairy science major at Cal Poly, says the high point of his competition career was at the 2013 Holstein convention. He and Areias had a goal for him to win all three competitions that year – dairy jeopardy, the dairy knowledge exam and, of course, dairy bowl.

Lopes was the only individual to place first in all of them. “No one had done that before,” he says and attributes this success to Areias’ coaching. “The dedication she had for us … she made us her sole focus.”

The 2015 convention in St. Charles, Illinois, brought some particular new challenges. Areias recalls the structure of the questions changed that year, and both her junior and senior teams went down early in the competition. “But [the kids] didn’t give up,” she added. “The contest had changed, and we needed to change with it.”

The year after that, she altered her coaching methods, and her entire team stepped up with her. Areias says their practices focused on more intense learning and in-depth discussions. They also included field trips to various farms, vet clinics and other operations.

Whenever they would go out on trips, Areias made it a point to let her teams take the discussions in their preferred direction and start the conversations. “The kids loved learning and preparing that way,” she says. The next year at the convention in New York, both teams reclaimed their championship status.

Currently, Areias is ready to start preparing her successor, or successors, to take her place and pass on the experience, challenges and rewards.

Anyone willing to step up certainly has big shoes to fill; the long string of notable success in the former team members is certainly impressive. Areias says many of her former students are now pursuing college degrees, nationally coveted internships, dairy cattle judging and much more. “Dairy bowl opens so many doors,” she says.

Lopes says everything he learned from Areias and dairy bowl greatly helped him prepare for his college career and beyond. “She was the first person who took me off the farm and gave me (the) time to talk, give speeches and compete,” he says. Thanks to his experiences, Lopes has gotten involved in raising his own registered Holstein herd on his family’s commercial operation.

And that sort of impact is exactly the legacy Areias says she has to leave behind for her kids, both those with and without dairy backgrounds. She says, “I believe all of them will have a passion about agriculture and dairy that was a bit more enhanced because they were in my dairy path.”  end mark

PHOTO 1: Areias is pictured with her 2016 national champion senior dairy bowl team. From left to right are Hannah Van Dyk, Hannah Mancebo, Coach Kirsten Areias, Siana Barrett and MacKenzie Elmer.

PHOTO 2: Kirsten Areias is pictured with her 2016 national champion junior dairy bowl team. She says that the comeback at that convention from the year before was one of her career highlights. From left to right are Jacob Fernandes, Abbi Prins, Coach Kirsten Areias, Hayley Fernandes and Kylie Konyn. Photos provided by Kirsten Areias. 

Jaclyn Krymowski is a 2017 Progressive Dairyman editorial intern.

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