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FFA ag team wins state, qualifies for nationals

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Photo submitted The Hotchkiss FFA Chapter Livestock and Ag Mechanics teams won high honors at the Colorado Career Development Events competition in Fort Collins. From left, Teagan Sommer, Will Ela, Jace Peebles, JD Miller, Bruce Turnbull, Karsen Sommer, C

Hotchkiss High School will soon add another state championship banner to its wall of fame.

Nathan Mattler, Teagan Sommer, Will Ela and Karsen Sommer won the state championship in Agricultural Technology Mechanical Systems at the annual Colorado FFA Career Development Events (CDE) held April 29-30, at Colorado State University in Fort Collins.

This is the first team state championship for the Hotchkiss FFA program since Teresa Burns formed the chapter in 1981, said HHS ag teacher Coley Wondra. The win also qualifies the team for national CDE competition this October.

Throughout the competition, teams demonstrate skills and knowledge in 14 areas of agricultural mechanics technology. This year's skills included calculating the number of bolts in a piece of agricultural machinery, knowledge and use of welding systems, calibration of sprinkler systems, land surveying, and electrical wiring. Students were also required to identify from memory the proper names and uses of some 1,000 different tools used in the ag industry.

CDE contests give FFA students the opportunity to test their agricultural skills against other teams, and as individuals. Competitors are scored in knowledge, problem solving, and skill or application. Throughout the daylong competition students are also judged on communication and team work skills.

The multi-faceted team competition involves writing reports, and a written exam. "They're typically heavily math related," said Wondra of the exams.

To train for the CDEs, students met weekly over the past four months with HHS FFA alumnus Jason Wrich, who has extensive knowledge of the ag industry. "Jason did a terrific job with them," said Wondra.

Wondra said that from year to year, "It's really vague what they have to train for." This year, he said, was "an on year for electricity."

Students are also judged on their individual knowledge and skills. In individual awards, Ela won High Individual and Karsen and Teagan Sommer won Gold Individual.

The chapter's Livestock Evaluation team of Colton Peebles, Jace Peebles, Bruce Turnbull, Ruby Shiflet and JD Miller also performed well, earning the Gold Award at the CDEs. Competition format is similar to the ag event, with teams demonstrating their ability in numerous areas including placement of classes of breeding livestock, completing a genetics activity, calculating marketing and transportation costs of livestock, and basic livestock knowledge.

The Gold Award doesn't qualify teams for nationals. It's basically the equivalent of a state semifinal competition in sports, and is a "big accomplishment," said Wondra. "With any state contest, you've got to just have things go your way on that day."

In individual livestock competition, Turnbull, Shiflet and Colton Peebles earned silver, and Miller earned gold.

About 50 ag mechanics and 60 livestock teams from throughout the state competed at this year's CDEs, said Wondra. Because it's a state-wide, all-class competition, Hotchkiss is up against bigger schools like Fruita Monument, Moffat County and Front Range schools, some with 300-400 chapter members. "To have a high placing individual in out of only 200 students is a big accomplishment," said Wondra.

An awards banquet was held at the CSU events center. Because they are the biggest of the CDEs, ag mechanics and livestock awards were presented last. With Hotchkiss competing in two of the more than than 20 CDE competitions, "We had to sit there and wait," said Wonder.

To celebrate, students went to Walrus Ice Cream, ordered pizza, and hit the swimming pool -- fun things they get to do only after the competition has ended. "We're there to compete," said Wondra.

The ag team will compete for a national title this October at the National FFA Convention at Indianapolis and is seeking team sponsors.

Students are also planning their training strategy, and for next year's CDEs. Because they qualified for nationals, the ag team is exempt from competing in ag mechanics next year, said Ela. While Karsen Sommer is a senior, Ela and Teagan Sommer, both juniors, can't compete in ag as seniors. But with some 20 events to choose from, they have options. Mattler, the only freshman on the team, will be eligible to compete in ag as a junior or senior.

Hotchkiss FFA students said they also greatly appreciate the support from the community, the school, and the countless volunteer hours put in by Jason Wrich and Robbie LeValley in helping them prepare them for the CDEs. Without them, said Wondra, "It would not be possible."

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