Small town FFA team wins big at national competition


For the Capital Press

A team of FFA members from Tulelake, Calif., won the national agricultural mechanics championship at the organization's Lousiville, Ky., convention.

TULELAKE, Calif. — The four members of the Tulelake High School agricultural mechanics team won first place at the National FFA Convention ag technology and mechanical systems competition earlier this month in Louisville, Ky.

They competed against state championship teams from 43 other states during the two-day competition.

The Tulelake group earned the right to represent California last spring by winning the state title over 47 other schools during competition at California Polytechnic Institute University in San Luis Obispo.

“They worked hard at it. They took the time and it paid off,” said Darrell Hirschler, their FFA coach who teaches agricultural mechanics and animal science at Tulelake High.

He said the four students — Dakota Massey, Luke Plass, Wayne Will and Julio Villasenor — spent hours studying and preparing for the nationals through the summer. Because they all had summer jobs, they and Hirschler met two or three nights a week, usually from about 6 to 9 p.m., preparing for the competition. The group also held fund-raising projects to pay for participating in the competition.

FFA’s agricultural mechanics cover such real-life skills as welding, concrete, metalwork, plumbing, mechanics, tool identification, electric motors and woodworking.

The team members arrived early to familiarize themselves with farm equipment that in some cases is different than that used in the West.

During the first day of competition, the group worked as a team to build a stand of metal and wood to hold a water pump engine in two hours. Massey and Will built the stand while Plass documented the work and Villasenor prepared the computer report.

On the second day, they and others competed individually, with team members rotating through a series of work stations. The tasks included welding, diagnosing a problem with a round baler, using mathematics to solve a problem on baling a field, calculating the time necessary to pump a field with a water pump and working with a solar panel to determine its voltage and amperage to calculate its total wattage.

“They were all pretty confident,” Hirschler said of feelings after the two days of competition.

No results were known until the following day.

“The awards banquet was pretty awesome,” said Hirschler.

The team earned a gold emblem while Massey and Will won individual gold emblems and Villasenor received an individual silver emblem. In the individual competition, Will placed third, Plass was fourth and Massey finished 11th.

Villasenor and Plass graduated last summer and attend Reedley College in Fresno. Will and Massey are Tulelake seniors, but because they competed nationally on last year’s team are ineligible this year, so Hirschler is recruiting a new four-member team. He was told Tulelake High is probably the smallest school to win a national FFA championship.

Tulelake, with a population of about 1,000, is just south of the Oregon-California state line in a region known for its potatoes and grain. The school held a recognition dinner to honor the team and its sponsors.

“They’re very proud of our boys and the ag department,” Hirschler said of the community, noting there are many multi-generation families who attended Tulelake High and participated in ag-related classes. “The dinner is to honor the team, but it’s also for us to thank the community for its support.”