The bell

The dust has finally settled on a great summer show season with the American Junior Simmental Association. For a lot of you, its time to head back to school. AJSA members have hung their banners and ribbons, stored their new luggage, and all that new show equipment is stored away in the barn until the next show. For a few AJSA members though, they had to find the perfect place to display a special award. It needs just the right place to display it, whether it be hung or sitting, the Swiss cow bell deserves its rightful place. The “bell” as we will refer to it is comparable to an Emmy or Oscar for AJSA members. Its that one award we all long to win, but only a select few will attain.

The Swiss bell that is awarded to the overall junior, intermediate, and senior high contestants at the National Classic, and regional; if the state chooses to award, is something AJSA members yearn to win. Many of them have seen brothers, sisters, family members, or friends work to achieve the honor and get to ring the bell. A bell, you might ask? Why? 

Of course most of us know that the Simmental breed of cattle originated in Switzerland. Cattle were adorned with bells so that the farmer could easily identify their herd. Different bells have different meanings to identify certain characteristics of an animal such as age, sex, or species. Can you imagine carrying one of these around your neck all the time? In Western Europe, when the snow has melted in the spring, villages send the cows to the high meadows in the mountains to graze, and do so by a ceremony called Alpaufzug. Villages celebrate this with a procession of the cattle through the village to the pastures. The cows are even decorated with floral wreaths on their head and horns. The best milk-producing cow in the village leads the parade like a grand marshall and wears the largest bell. Bells are made in various sizes, and cows are awarded them based on their milk production that year. 

Similarly, the AJSA is awarded bells; many times of various sizes based on age division to the junior members who excel above their peers in the overall point standing of the contests and cattle show combined. As a AJSA member myself, I can remember watching others win the bell and ringing it loud and proud. At this year’s national classic I was reminded of the conquest to capture the bell by Morgan Phillips. As you might have seen from Facebook, this was Morgan’s final year as an AJSA member, and her last shot at winning the bell. Her hardwork during the week paid off as Morgan was named Top Overall Senior Contestant and was able to ring her own bell. Morgan reminded me of the great honor and privilege it was to win the bell, and the prestige a junior member felt might finally making that dream a reality. Thus it inspired me to go back and ask other former and current AJSA members what it meant to them to win the bell. 

Morgan Phillips :: Overall Senior 2017

Like many long-time AJSA competitors, winning the bell has been a goal of mine since my first national classic in Sedalia, Missouri in 2005. For years I admired each person who had their name called at the end of the banquet and as they rang their bell. Now that I have been successful in winning the bell I have such a sense of pride. I am proud to have joined the elite group of AJSA members to have earned this prestigious award. Many of you know that I was extremely emotional when I received my bell. I was overcome with joy and excitement that this dream had finally come true. My advice to all AJSA members is to never give up and think that the bell is out of reach. For me, it was well worth the wait.

Faith Onstot :: Overall Senior 2016

The Swiss Cow Bell is something every junior exhibitor dreams about winning one day. Ringing the bell for the first time gives you a rush unlike any other. It is an award designed to showcase the hard work and perseverance of one lucky individual for each age division. When you win a bell you get to join an elite group of individuals who have won in years past. I remember when I first saw a list of people who had won a bell and thinking to myself “I will be on that list someday”.  In 2013, I was fortunate enough to win the intermediate overall title and take the bell home. I will never forget the overwhelming joy I felt. Fears of public speaking were diminished, the sales talk techniques were perfected, and the cattlemen’s quiz was finally mastered. The long nights studying for that exact moment had paid off. The very same day I set a goal to win another Swiss Bell before my junior career would come to a close. I wanted to have the same feeling one more time. Three years later in 2016 I would be blessed to ring the Senior Division Bell for the final time. This memory will be one I cherish for a lifetime because it shows anything is possible if you work hard and It taught me the importance of setting challenging goals. The Swiss Bell is so much more than just another award. It is a tradition within the Simmental breed which has been and will be passed down from generation to generation.

Rachel Dickson :: Overall Junior 2014, 2015

These are two days of my life I will never forget. Not only to win “the bell” once, but to win it twice has really opened my eyes and made me even more thankful that I get to do what I love every single day, show and raise Simmental cattle. Winning “the bell” has really proven to myself that all of my hard work really does pay off. The countless hours studying for the Cattlemen’s Quiz, the many long dreaded Salestalk practice speeches with my family (or whoever else would listen), and all of the long, late nights perfecting my showmanship skills in the barn. Winning “the bell” has really given me confidence in all aspects of my life, from public speaking to showmanship, that I need to succeed. It makes me feel so thankful and blessed to win “the bell” on two separate occasions and it is an honor to be a part of a small group of juniors that have achieved such accomplishment. To all the juniors out there, hard work does pay off and believing in yourself is the key.

Amanda Eberspacher Hilbrands :: Overall Senior 2008

It’s hard to believe that the 2008 National Classic in Witcha Falls TX was 9yrs ago already but that is one I will never forget. So many memories made with great friends in and out of the showring and when you ask me about it, a pretty big smile will creep across my face. Cashmere rocked the bred and owned division and I remember my contests had been going really well. I was more nervous for the banquet than usual and it came down to myself and my great friend/roomie/partner in crime for the week Valerie Ujazdowsi for Overall Senior. The anticipation was killing us but when I heard “In 2nd place…. from Wisconsin..” my heart couldn’t have soared any higher. At that moment, all the hard work and dedication and time spent all came together. Growing up watching the “older kids” like Jay Thissen, Blake Bloomberg, Ashley Moore, Brandi Bourg and many others fight for that top title, I always said to myself “I’m going to win that someday.” There is something very special about the “Bell Club” and the confidence it continues to give you past your AJSA years that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. I encourage the juniors still competing to fight hard for that bell. The view from the top is pretty awesome.

Kylee Sigmon :: Overall Intermediate 2012, 2014

From the time I won High First Time Junior contestant at my first Junior national in 2009, I set my sights on winning my own Swiss Cow Bell. For me that was the epitome of personal growth and success within the American Junior Simmental Association. The next two years I received Reserve Overall Contestant, until 2012 when I finally got to ring my first “bell” (I actually didn’t receive a bell as a prize that year ). That moment in Lima, Ohio is one I will never forget. I felt a huge rush of humbling satisfaction and gratitude knowing that my hard work had paid off and that I had been bestowed an honor that nearly all juniors dream of.

Ellen Tom :: Overall Junior 1997

I was involved in a lot of activities growing up but it never failed that every year the event I always looked most forward to was attending the AJSA National Classic. Looking back on that time period my fondest memories all seem to stem back to showing Simbrahs and the friends I made during that time. I won “the bell” 20 years ago at the 1997 Classic in Spokane, Washington. Winning the bell is still one of the accomplishments I’m most proud of because it’s a symbol of being a being a well-rounded competitor in a variety of disciplines. While many of the awards I won throughout my youth have been discarded, my cow bell resides in the conference room of my ranch office.

Blake Bloomberg – Overall Junior: 1999, 2000  Overall Senior: 2006

In my opinion it is the pinnacle of showing Simmentals at the junior level. It is something that I still cherish to this day.


Perhaps no one more than Blake Bloomberg sparked my own personal goal to win the bell. Blake was an extremely competitive AJSA member both in the contests and in the show ring. As you can see, he won the bell several times during his AJSA career. I hope that AJSA members today can look to someone as a mentor, role model, or even competitor and challenge themselves to set goals. Maybe it isn’t to win the bell, but perhaps its to get over your fear of public speaking that Faith spoke about, placing in the top 10 or 20 of your favorite contest, or raising the Grand Champion Bred & Owned. We all have our own paths to get to where our dreams are leading us. In 2001, I was named second overall junior in Fort Collins, Colorado behind Katie Fields. I won a nice belt buckle, but it wasn’t the bell I was hoping for. I studied, prepared, and focused on the summer of 2002. And in 2002, I won my bell.

We all have a “bell” within our sights. It could pertain to school, sports, work, personal growth, livestock, AJSA, or your state association. Something that motivates us to do more, set goals, and achieve something out there in the world. Whatever it may be, may you capture it and ring it proudly!





This entry was posted in AJSA/ASA and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *