Today’s the day.
As Labette County FFA members file into their classroom, one by one they announce the second anniversary of the chapter’s novice parliamentary procedure team’s national championship win. And with those few words, the students pack up their celebration and lock in their focus on this year’s national competition and the challenges ahead.
Labette County’s five national qualifying leadership development event teams don’t signify a national record for the school but they do make them part of an elite few FFA chapters with as many qualifiers in a single year. Five national qualifying teams is a feat few schools accomplish and for Labette County FFA members, it is a direct result of dedication, teamwork and a combined focus on lofty goals.
“These guys — out of any team I have ever had — have worked as hard to prepare and we’ll see if we have success, that all depends on how things fall once we get to Indianapolis,” said Labette County FFA adviser Dustin Wiley. “They have sacrificed a ton — personally and professionally for their team and their teammates at such a young age.”
Labette County’s national qualifying teams include:
Agronomy: Maggie Billman, senior; Cameron Dodsworth, junior; Bethany Byrd, junior; Cloe Jones, junior; and coached by Dustin Wiley. Farm and
Agribusiness Management: Riley Sorrell, senior; Aubrie Sorrell, college freshman; Bronte Waisner, senior; Rachel Bebb, college freshman; and coached by Jeff Falkenstien.
Agricultural Communications: Sunny Webb, senior; Cara DeTar, senior; Auston Barragar, junior; Abby Goins, college freshman; and coached by Emily and Kyle Zwahlen.
Agricultural Sales: Taya Maxson, sophomore; Luke Falkenstien, junior; Emma Brown, sophomore; Claire Carnahan, sophomore; and coached by Dustin Wiley.
Veterinary Science: Shyanne Jones, college freshman; Ivy Gatton, college freshman; Maria Payne, college freshman; Heather Smith, college freshman; and coached by Kyle Zwahlen.
For these students, competing has become more than rote memorization or a chance to leave school for a day — it has fundamentally changed their interactions with their peers, community and family and built up a bank of knowledge and skills to last a lifetime.
“My family owns a farm and it has never been in my plan to take over the farm because I never really knew anything about it or felt like I had the capability to,” said Maggie Billman, an agronomy team member. “I feel like now I can go sit and drink coffee with my dad and be able to have an intelligent conversation with people way smarter than me.
“To me, learning agronomy is more about speaking the language, and because we are a really agrarian community, it is really neat to become an active part of that.”
Billman said learning the natural and chemical processes of farming for the contest has helped her feel more comfortable communicating with her family but the process of studying for the difficult contest also has imparted skills beyond communication.
“This has been the hardest contest I’ve ever done for nationals,” Billman said. “It’s been difficult to see that we have to prepare ahead of time rather than waiting until the last minute, and I know I will use that skill for the rest of my life.”
Practical skills and knowledge applications are core to FFA contests. From budgeting to chemical balances and videography, Labette County FFA members have studied and developed a diverse skillset to succeed on a national level but the prime applications of those skills happen more often in their own lives than in the testing room.
“Now when we see a new tractor or piece of equipment, it isn’t just a toy,” Bronte Waisner said. “We see the investment the farmer made and think about ways they could avoid extra costs or about their depreciation.”
Overall, students said participating in the contests has translated into greater participation and interest in the world around them — in this case — farming.
“It’s kind of opened my eyes,” Riley Sorrell said. “I didn’t realize how much goes into a farm business and it’s really in depth, with lots of layers.”
For many Labette County FFA teams, school begins a full hour earlier than other students for practice and because many team members have already graduated, teams meet on the weekends as well. With hours of daily dedication, it would be easy for students to prioritize their team activities over schoolwork, but in this case, the two often go hand in hand.
“Studying for agronomy really helped me in chemistry because you see how it actually happens,” Cameron Dodsworth said. “We have to do fertilizers and the cat-ion exchange capacity so it gave me an application.”
Public speaking is emphasized in every facet of FFA competitions, and in this case those skills are especially important to the agricultural sales team as they endeavor to sell products they may have never seen before to often-stubborn judges.
“The judges in this contest won’t always be nice so you have to find ways to get along with them and form some sort of a connection,” Emma Brown said. “I think that’s a skill that we can use in any job.”
For a generation often characterized as being phone-dependent and unable to form personal connections, the Labette County FFA students have found ways to take their skills beyond the contest and find applications in the real world.
“My parents are always telling me that I may not know a lot of people but a lot of people know me,” Luke Falkenstien said. “To get scholarships or job opportunities, you have to know people and learning to build rapport here has helped me have the confidence to build those relationships.”
Every Labette County FFA team member came into the year with a goal set for themselves — to win a state contest or best an older sibling’s record — and for many of them those goals have been gradually replaced with bigger and better goals as they push forward in their achievements.
In many ways, individual goals are a “secret” to Labette County’s success. The students themselves drive the level of intensity based on their own desire to achieve and because of their personal and collective dedication their efforts rarely feel like work.
“Ag and FFA feel more like a reward to us than a class,” Taya Maxson said. “Getting to work on this doesn’t feel like work — it’s something we all enjoy and are excited about.” £