St. George students compete in National FFA Convention, attend Trump speech

The Dixie High School team after competing at the National FFA Convention, Indianapolis, Ind., date not specified | Photo courtesy of David Gust, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Eleven students from three high schools in St. George attended the National FFA Convention to compete and be recognized for their accomplishments in FFA, and as a bonus got to hear President Donald Trump speak.

Cash Schmutz is among trombone players at the National FFA Convention, Indianapolis, Ind., date not specified | Photo courtesy of Frannie Pena, St. George News

FFA is designed for students in seventh through 12th grades who are interested in some form of agriculture. Clubs are run by agriculture teachers, and students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience and learn about different careers and types of agriculture.

“Kids a lot of times think it’s just the farming aspect but it’s everything. If you eat food, you’re involved in agriculture,” Pine View High School advisor Frannie Pena said.

This year’s 91st National FFA Convention held in Indianapolis, Indiana, saw a record 69,944 attendees. Activities included sessions of workshops, speakers, horse and livestock judging, a national band and chorus, music, public speaking, debates and scholarship and award ceremonies.

Trump attended this year’s convention to speak to students, parents and teachers about the importance of agriculture, the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and issues facing today’s farmers. It was the first time a president attended the convention since George H. W. Bush in 1991.

Students from Pine View High School, Snow Canyon High School and Dixie High School attended this year’s convention which took place Oct. 24-27.

Pine View High School

Pine View High School senior Annalise Schmitt attended this year’s convention to play violin in the national talent competition. This was her first year at the convention and placed 15th overall.

Annalise Schmitt plays the violin at the National FFA Convention, Indianapolis, Ind., date not specified | Photo courtesy of Frannie Pena, St. George News

Schmitt had to perform for three rounds, and played “Thais Meditation,” “Orange Blossom Special” and a combination of “Chardis” and the “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme song in front of a panel of judges.

She also performed before and during FFA sessions, at award dinners, art shows and a variety of other locations.

Being at the convention was a memorable experience, Annalise said. Stepping out of her comfort zone to play in front of such large crowds was an opportunity for her to learn more about herself and meet new people.

“I’m just so grateful I joined because I’ve met so many different people from everywhere. It’s just really awesome,” Schmitt said.

Through FFA, Annalise has gained experience in horse judging and is interested in a career as a veterinarian.

“There’s a place and there’s a competition that every single kid could find a place that they would fit in, and that they would find something that they would enjoy and something that they would be good at,” Pena said.

Snow Canyon High School

Snow Canyon High School FFA advisor Tawney Campbell brought students Cash Schmutz and Teresa Heroux.

Cash Schmutz and Tawney Campbell, Snow Canyon High School, St. George, Utah, Nov. 5, 2018 | Photo by Mikayla Shoup, St. George News

Schmutz, a 16-year-old junior and secretary of the FFA club, was one of the 88 students chosen from about 200 applicants to participate in the National FFA Band at the convention. He had to arrive to Indianapolis early to practice the selection of music, which no one in the band had seen prior to arriving at the convention.

“It’s cool being a big band because at least most of the people there are pretty good at their instrument, and they like music and they’re pretty dedicated,” Schmutz said.  

Schmutz, who plays the trombone, performed with the band at five of nine FFA sessions, along with other smaller performances, and had the opportunity to sit on the stage behind Trump as he spoke at the convention.

Campbell was excited by the opportunity that her students had to see the president speak and was impressed by the personalized speech he gave, reciting both the FFA creed and the convention theme.

“Politics aside, he did his homework. That was the thing I was most impressed about. He actually cared and made it personalized, and he was really funny,” Campbell said.

Heroux is a recent graduate of Snow Canyon High School and now attends Dixie State University. FFA members retain their membership for one year post-graduation, giving them time to qualify for the American FFA degree, the highest degree awarded to students.

Tawney Campbell and Teresa Haroux at the National FFA Convention, Indianapolis, Ind., date not specified | Photo courtesy of Frannie Pena, St. George News

To qualify, students must have graduated high school, earned each of the three previous degrees, the greenhand degree, chapter degree and state degree, be a member of FFA for four years, participate in FFA activities, earned and invested $10,000, completed a supervised agricultural experience and contributed at least 50 hours of community service.

Only around 4,000 students of approximately 600,000 FFA members receive their American degree. Heroux attended an awards banquet where she received a plaque and met with the FFA president and other alumni.

She was the first student from Snow Canyon High School to receive an American FFA degree.

Heroux was the local FFA chapter president her senior year, and being a part of FFA over the years inspired her to pursue a degree in forestry and eventually a job as a park ranger.

“FFA made a massive impact on my life. … It really developed a leadership in me and taught me a lot about myself for personal growth, and just believing in myself and persevering through everything,” Heroux said.

Dixie High School

Dixie High School Students Sienna Jones, Jackson Bandley, Jonah Larsen, Logan Roberts, Callista Roberts, Tagger Bracken, Shayler Bracken and Ireland Hall won second place to Oklahoma in the agricultural issues forum, which challenged students to find an agricultural issue, perform in-depth research about the pros and cons of the issue and present it as a creative script.

Only one group per state can compete at the national convention, having to win in regional and state competitions before going to Indianapolis. The Dixie team had to compete against just one other team in Utah, so beating teams from larger states like Texas and California, who have to win against around 250 teams to reach nationals is quite a feat, Dixie High School FFA advisor David Gust said.

“What I got out of this was how much I’m able to work with a team, and how much the team can do for you and just how much I can cooperate with other people. … This required a team. It took a lot,” Roberts said.

The Dixie team chose to research the Antiquities Act, which gives the president power to designate national monuments and their size. They used the local issue of Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument to argue both for and against changing the act.

“One of the hardest thing that I found about this was not that we had to take a stand, it was that some of our parts weren’t our actual belief system,” Larsen said. “It made it more difficult because I had to go to the complete other side of thinking, and I had to find research and quotes, and I had to talk to people.”

The creative script was performed like a skit, with Larsen acting as a teacher bringing students on a field trip to Bears Ears, who then proceeded to present their arguments. The presentation lasted 15 minutes, and a panel of judges questioned the students for seven minutes afterward.

“Our whole objective was to take our message and have them understand this is a current issue that has possible resolutions, from H.R. bills to just leaving it the way it is,” Gust said.

The students researched the issue for about a year before the convention, spending about 1,000 hours together researching and practicing their presentation.

They spoke with people from the Bureau of Land Management, Mitt Romney, congressmen and other government officials. They also attended a roundtable discussion at Zion National Park with Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and had the opportunity to share their thoughts with him.

Read more: Zinke in Zion to address $16B maintenance backlog in national parks, public lands

“Part of their issue that they were presenting during the competition was that there is and isn’t public input, and that was such a cool thing to know that there were people high up in our politics and in the government that actually had to listen, and wanted to listen, to what we had to say about this. So that was a really cool experience for us,”  Jones said.

Winning second place in the competition was “bittersweet,” Bandley said, but the team was able to learn more about politics, memorization, teamwork and themselves.

“I realized I’m able to talk to people, like when we met with the lieutenant governor, and we met with Gov. Mitt Romney, that’s something I never thought would happen,” Bandley said. “Speaking in front of thousands on the final stage, I realized I’m able just to talk to people and it’s not as bad as I always thought it was.”

Videos of FFA competitions and events, as well as information about the organization can be found here.

Email: mshoup@stgnews.com

Twitter:  @STGnews | @MikaylaShoup

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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