A Youthful Voice...The Advocate Youth Page Schyler Angell

Associate Editor,
Advocate Youth Page

April is at the heart of FFA “contest season”. For FFA members this may mean memorizing speeches or touching up their livestock judging skills, and for ag advisors, this means late nights spent at practice contest, and early mornings teaching contest teams. FFA contests give members the opportunity to learn new life skills, while competing for a chance to compete and win at the state level.

Contests are divided in two main groups, Leadership Development Events and Career Development Events. Leadership Development Events include contest such as job interview, public speaking and parliamentary procedure. Career Development Events include contest such as livestock evaluation, entomology and forestry. The National FFA website says, “These competitive events develop individual responsibility, foster teamwork and promote communication while recognizing the value of ethical competition and individual achievement. Successful members expand their knowledge base by interacting with peers, teachers, as well as business and community leaders to gain a complete and comprehensive knowledge about specific career and leadership areas.”

This year I am competing in the Agricultural Issues and Division II Public Speaking contest, both of which are classified as Leadership Development Events. In the Ag Issues contest, a team of three to seven members choose any current agricultural issue and share both the pros and cons of the issue in an unbiased fifteen minute skit. My team is addressing the question, “Should live animal mascots be used at collegiate and professional sporting events?” We decided to choose this topic after the live mascot for Texas University, a longhorn steer named Bevo, charged through his pen and a crowd of people at Georgia’s live mascot, a bulldog named Uga. The event caused quite the scene and controversy. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has asked all universities and professional sports teams to stop using live animal mascots. As you can imagine, this contest is fun and interesting! This year my speech is about agriculture advocacy. In my speech, I talk about various topics including the Miss Missouri’s Outstanding Teen Organization, Savannah’s Farm Fresh Beef and even writing for the Cattlemen’s Advocate youth column!

There are four main contest; area, districts, state and nationals. Throughout the state there are 16 areas and 6 districts. At my area contest, my speech qualified for districts as third place, and my ag issues team qualified as first place! Area sure was an exciting night and I am looking forward to Districts and State contest which both take place in April. Before students compete at Area, they often attend practice contests. These practice contests take place around the state, typically on Saturdays. According to the Paris FFA Facebook page, their school hosted 1,305 FFA members from around the state to practice judging, ID’ing, presenting and learning through their Career Development Events. The Centralia FFA Chapter similarly hosted a practice contest for Leadership Development events. Volunteers act as judges for the night and provide members with solid feedback that will help them excel when it comes to contest and even their future careers.

When asked about how these contests influence students, Lori Lewis, one of my agricultural educators responded saying, “The skills and knowledge that FFA and agriculture students gain from participating in these competitions are invaluable as they prepare to enter the workforce or continue their education. I have talked with many judges after speaking or other leadership events and they cannot believe the way that FFA students are able to represent themselves and their goals. These judges range from human resource managers to owners of businesses or farms and they are blown away by the ability of members who have participated in these events. Aside from the skills that can transfer across all careers, another aspect of Career Development events is that students can find interests that will lead them to their future jobs or careers. I have had numerous students who tried a contest team that they may have had no idea about and discovered a perfect fit for their future. Having students tell me that they are entering a crop science field after participating in the agronomy CDE or asking me for a reference so that they may work in a research lab with insects after working on the Entomology CDE are some of the highest points of my teaching career. Following these same students as they build successful careers in these fields is even better! I encourage students to step out of their comfort zones and take advantage of every opportunity provided by Career Development and Leadership Development Events because it can definitely be a life changing experience. In my opinion, there is no better method of career exploration.”
As I prepare for my speech and ag issues presentation, I will keep in mind the “big picture” when it comes to competing against my fellow FFA members. I don’t know what the results of my upcoming contest will be, but I do know that along the way I am learning career skills, having fun, meeting new people and becoming a better teammate and leader.