PALMYRA, Mo. -- Brian Curless, a livestock auctioneer who sells cattle at auction houses in Palmyra and elsewhere, has proven himself to be one of the best in the business.
Curless last month won the 2017 World Livestock Auctioneer Championship in Billings, Mont. He beat 30 other top livestock auctioneers from around the country in a national competition hosted by the Livestock Marketing Association.
This was the sixth time the Pittsfield, Ill., resident competed in the national contest and the first time he came away with the top prize. Curless placed second in the competition two years ago.
"I am absolutely blown away by it," he said. "It is truly an honor, and it's really, really humbling."
The two-day competition was conducted June 16 and 17 at the Public Auction Yards in Billings as part of the LMA's annual convention. Curless was sponsored by F&T Livestock in Palmyra, Kirksville Livestock and the Fairview Sale Barn in Fairview, Ill.
The event featured 30 U.S. competitors -- 10 qualifiers who emerged from each of three different regional auctioneering contests -- along with the winner of the auctioneering competition at Calgary Stampede.
The first day of the contest, June 16, featured an interview session in which all 31 contestants had to answer the same three questions about livestock marketing while standing on stage before a crowd as television cameras broadcast the interviews across the Internet.
This was a challenge for many of the competitors, Curless said.
"While we're used to selling for hours upon hours behind a microphone, we're not necessarily used to putting coherent sentences together in front of a camera," he said. "That's a whole different ballgame."
The second day of the competition required participants to display their auctioneering skills during the actual sale of livestock with bidders seated in the auction ring. The contestants were judged on the clarity of their auction chant, vocal quality, ability to catch bids and run the sale, and whether the judges would hire the auctioneer for their own livestock markets.
Curless was one of 10 finalists called back for a final round of selling.
The results of the competition were announced that night during a banquet. Curless said he was thrilled beyond words when he was named the champion.
He was summoned to the podium to give an acceptance speech, and said, "It's hard not to be speechless" at a time like that.
"The best part about the whole thing for me was that my three kids were there with me," he said, referring to Frazier, 21, Bella, 18, and Anna, 15. "They just literally jumped on me."
Curless' wife of nearly 25 years, Sandy, didn't attend the national competition this time, but she watched on the internet at home as the results were announced.
"I think half of Pittsfield must have been watching, and there were a lot of people from the Palmyra area and the Kirksville area and the Fairview area watching," Curless said.
"As soon as they announced it, my texter started lighting up like you can't believe. It took me about four or five days to answer all the texts that came in that night."
Curless' first day back on the job at F&T Livestock in Palmyra was last Monday. "There was a lot of hand-shaking and congratulations," he said.
For winning the championship, Curless received a $5,000 cash prize, a bronze sculpture, a world champion ring and belt buckle, a hand-tooled leather briefcase, a money clip and the Golden Gavel Award from the World Wide College of Auctioneering.
He also got to take home a customized 2017 Ford truck that he will use throughout the next year while visiting livestock auction houses around the country as a goodwill ambassador for the livestock marketing industry.
Cody Lowderman of Macomb, Ill., placed second in the national competition, earning reserve champion honors. He received $2,000 and other prizes.
Curless, 50, grew up in the livestock marketing industry. His family owned a livestock market in Pittsfield, but he didn't go to auction school until he was nearly 25.
"I never really had a hankering to be the auctioneer like a lot of people do because I was so involved in the business," he said.
But when he eventually decided to become an auctioneer, he quickly discovered he had a knack for selling. He studied the best auctioneers in the business and worked hard to hone his skills.
"It's always been about trying to be the best auctioneer that I could be," he said.