By MATTHEW WEAVER
RITZVILLE, Wash. -- Lind-Ritzville FFA students were hard at work earlier this week, preparing for the organization's state convention.
In one room, juniors Dylan Hartz and Tyler Frederick studied pictures of cuts of meat for the meats competition.
In another, juniors Bridger Smith and Connor O'Neill consulted one another and advisor Andy Williams as they worked on farm business management tests.
The students were training to compete in career development events at the FFA state convention, which is May 9-11 on the Washington State University campus in Pullman, Wash. The chapter is sending 64 students to the convention.
This year, the Lind and Ritzville high schools combined -- the junior high is now in Lind and the high school is in Ritzville -- so the FFA chapter has two advisors and two sets of chapter officers, including co-presidents Maya Wahl of Lind and Amanda Yockey of Ritzville.
Next year there will be one set of officers, said Wahl, who is also president of District 9. This will be her fourth year attending the convention.
"People outside of the FFA world probably don't understand how big of a deal it is," Wahl said. "I know some teachers get frustrated because we're always gone for FFA things. However, they don't understand how important it is for us to be learning these things and experiencing this."
Jodi Monroe, executive director of the Washington FFA Association, expects 2,500 to 3,000 people to attend the event.
The convention will host two new competitions, a novice parliamentary procedure event for younger students and a veterinary science contest that includes a written test and a simulated real-life experience, Monroe said.
"I'm not going to say what it is because they haven't competed yet," Monroe said. "If these students were working as an assistant or intern at a veterinarian clinic, this is hands-on experience to put them right in there."
Speakers include a national FFA officer and a well-known FFA speaker the evening of May 9. Monroe declined to give the name.
"If you've been in the business as long as a lot of these teachers, they're going to be thrilled to have this person on stage," she said. "If you've been in FFA and this person shows up, they bring down the house."
Sean Neal, a former Garfield-Palouse FFA member and former state FFA vice president, will give a motivational speech the evening of May 10.
New state officers will be elected the evening of May 11. Monroe said there are 30 candidates.
In spite of all the excitement, the year was marred by the death of state advisor H. Wayne Gilman in February.
"It left a big hole," Monroe said. "It just won't be the same, not having him there as the state owl."
In FFA, the owl is the symbol for the advisor, depicting knowledge and wisdom and offering advice to students.
Becky Wallace, who is currently teaching in Yelm, Wash., will be the new state advisor. She takes over July 1 and will be introduced at the convention.