Inspiring Okeechobee: Sumner is champion of champions

It’s not every day that a teenage girl whips out her phone to show you pictures of her Brown Swiss cow, but then Shelby Sumner is not your average teenage girl. Shelby has been a member of one 4-H group or another since kindergarten, participating in Junior Quiz Bowls, speech contests, public speaking contests and this year she is a member of three different clubs — Sharpshooters, County Council Junior Leaders and Udder Bunch — as well as being a part of District Council.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble Shelby Sumner hopes to visit every state in the U.S. before she graduates from high school.


Shelby explained County Council focuses on leadership and performs community service projects. Its goal is to build youth leaders. Shelby serves as vice-president to the County Council as well as to the Udder Bunch. The Udder Bunch is dairy focused, and most members concentrate on showing and judging. She serves as secretary and reporter to the Sharpshooters club.
Although she just celebrated her 16th birthday this week, Shelby attends Indian River State College (IRSC) as a homeschooled/dual enrollment student and already knows exactly what she wants to do with her life.


“IRSC does not offer my major,” she said. “I am on their guided pathway to pre-vet med.” She wants to continue on to the University of Florida and get a bachelor’s degree in animal science and then attend veterinarian school wherever she can get accepted, hopefully out of state, she said. This semester she is taking four classes at the college rather than the five she took last semester because she said Spring is a very busy time for her.

Special to the Lake Okeechobee News
Shelby Sumner was named the Champion of Champions at the Florida State Fair. This program offers the youth exhibitors the opportunity to show their prize winning animals as well as the option of participating in numerous educational activities. On the final day of the fair, the top 32 Senior Champion Youth Exhibitors compete to be the “Best of the Best.”


One of the things keeping Shelby so busy is the 4-H Executive Board. This is her first year as a member on the board, but she is thoroughly enjoying it, she said. She explained that the board splits into committees — event committees and standing committees — and this year, her event committee is 4-H Day at the Capital, and it was held on her birthday, April 4. Her standing committee is L.I.F.E., which stands for Living in Florida’s Environment and pertains to recovery from natural disasters.


Shelby is also on the planning committee for the National 4-H Dairy Conference which is held in Madison, Wis. She was able to attend this conference last year and said it was very educational.
Recently Shelby won Champion of Champions at the state fair. The Champion Youth Program is open to youths age eight to 18. They earn points by participating in different activities throughout the fair, within their species, explained Shelby. The points are based on public speaking (Shelby’s favorite), educational posters, showmanship, record book skills tests, attending a pre-fair seminar and a skill-a thon — all regarding the topic of the year. According to Shelby, the top four seniors (14-18 year olds) from each species are chosen to compete in a round robin. That means 32 teens are competing for Champion of Champions. In Shelby’s opinion, the most difficult station this year was the beef station because she had to identify 20 poisonous plants, and she said she only knew about three of them. She was determined not to leave any answers blank though, so she made her best guesses and hoped for the best. Now that she has won Champion of Champions, she is no longer eligible to compete.


Shelby works at IRSC part-time as a peer tutor, tutoring college and intermediate algebra, and when she is able, she does ride-a-longs with Dr. Paul Bryant to get a feel for what being a vet will really be like. She said one day last year she went out with him when it was 29 degrees. It was hard to make herself go that morning, but she did it with a little help, also known as a guilt trip, from her mom, said Shelby.


This past year, Shelby was on a national dairy judging team and went to the North American International Livestock Exposition in Louisville, Ky. When they won, her coach actually cried, he was so excited. “It was such an emotional moment for everyone,” she said.


This week, Shelby was notified that she was chosen as one of 100-120 high school students from across the U.S. to attend the National Rifle Association’s Youth Education Summit in Washington D.C. for one week this summer. Besides giving her the opportunity to tour Washington D.C., this trip will provide her with scholarship opportunities and give her a chance to hone her debate and public speaking skills.


Shelby loves traveling and has been to 35 states, but after April, it will have been 39, she said. If for some reason she couldn’t become a vet, she would want to do something that involved travel, and she would really like to go study abroad during the summer after she finishes high school.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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