There wasn’t a dry eye in the barn when Samantha Nicole Iselt of Lexington, Texas, was named the exhibitor of the Grand Champion Market Barrow at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo. On Friday, she won over hearts again when she walked her barrow into the sale ring. Iselt sold her pig for a record-breaking $157,000 and received a $10,000 scholarship.
Time stood still
The energy and commotion before the champion barrow drive was like nothing judge Brandon Yantis of Piper City, Ill., had ever experienced. People piled around the show ring in San Antonio, Texas, on Thursday for one of the most popular champion drives of the year.
Lead judge Ryan Sites of Tuttle, Okla., finished his comments on the champion barrow as Yantis made his way over to give 17-year-old Samantha, the daughter of Tobin and Fonda Iselt, a high-five and award her the coveted banner. The crowd erupted and everyone jumped to their feet to cheer.
“And then it was like time stood still,” Yantis says. “It was a moment I will never forget. The smile on the young exhibitor’s face and the tears of joy in her eyes remind you of why this all matters.”
There’s no question that Samantha’s barrow was unique and many said he was the best they’d ever seen. During the Champion Hampshire drive, Yantis told the crowd that his winner was incredibly challenging to assemble. He admits it probably wasn’t a surprise to anyone when he shook Samantha’s hand.
When there are no words
No one could deny that what helped this Hampshire show his heart out was the young girl walking beside him. Samantha’s connection to her pig was undeniable.
“I cried… watching her drive that pig all by herself,” says friend Kevin Thomas, an ag teacher of 24 years from Jacksboro, Texas. Samantha has Down Syndrome and has a helper in the ring when she shows. But she didn’t need a helper at San Antonio, Thomas says.
“She was driving the pig out of corners, transitioning from judge side to off-judge side,” he says. “The bond and the training she has done with that hog are undeniable. She stumbled and dropped her stick once and the hog still held its head up just like it did when she was touching him. That’s the bond, work ethic and repetition of that animal and [Samantha] that allowed it to perform like no other.”
Judge Brandon Yantis looks on as Samantha drives her pig. Photo by ShowChampions Photography, provided by Coby Berger.
For Samantha’s brother, Coby Berger, watching his sister win San Antonio was a moment that he can’t adequately put into words.
“It was absolutely crazy. I was sick to my stomach and as nervous as I could be,” Coby says. “It didn’t feel real when I watched the judge slap her hand. I will hold this in and remember it for as long as I can for the rest of my life.”
And by the look of the smile on Samantha’s face, the tears streaming from her eyes and the big waves she gave the crowd, words weren’t needed to express how she felt when she walked out of the ring with her awards.
Coby and his father, Cliff Berger, bred and raised this record-setting animal. But for those who know Coby, that was just a small part of why that win was so meaningful.
“He has dedicated his whole life to his kid sister, to the point that he hasn’t even chased his own dreams because his drive is to see her succeed,” Thomas says.
Coby says his sister has been a blessing to their family since the day she was born.
“She changed me,” he says. “We are inseparable and she’s honestly my best friend. She keeps me motivated every day. I’m so passionate about showing livestock because for her to be able to go into the ring and show like that – for 10 minutes she is just like any other kid in the ring.”
Samantha shares a moment with Coby after the show. Photo by ShowChampions Photography, provided by Coby Berger.
It’s about kids, not pigs
In the show industry, it’s often said that livestock projects are about making better kids. Thomas believes this is truly what showing livestock has done for Samantha.
“I’ve always felt like the pig is just a vehicle for a kid to be a good human,” Thomas says. “It’s a small bottle of time you have with your kids to teach them about life.”
Coby has been around pigs his entire life – his father used to run a commercial swine operation. At age 3, Coby began showing pigs. After high school, they started to raise more pigs for the show ring. However, Samantha didn’t start showing pigs as early as her brother did.
“At first, I didn’t think Samantha would be able to do it,” he admits. “But one day when she was about 10 years old, I asked her to walk a pig so I could look at it. Showing was just natural for her. She’s been showing ever since.”
But why pigs? With so many options of livestock to choose from, pigs are the most affordable for the average kid and is a project that all kids have a chance to succeed in.
“A lot of things have to work right – integrity of the judge, quality stock and genetics, and teachability,” Thomas adds. “All of those are variables, but every kid still has a chance.”
Showing and raising livestock reminds kids that working hard, respecting one another and doing your best goes a long way. As evidenced by the supporters standing ringside in San Antonio, showing also builds empathy, understanding and sportsmanship.
Perhaps just as importantly, showing pigs teaches kids to never give up on their dreams, Yantis adds.
Coby and Samantha high-five. Photo by Texas Pork Producers Association.
For Coby, watching his sister win one of the biggest barrow shows in the world was indeed a dream come true. More than 3,000 head competed for the champion title this year. Watching his sister win was an incredible honor.
“Samantha is the nicest person you’ll ever meet. She never has a bad day and makes everyone happy,” Berger says. “She reminds me to always see the good in all things.”
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