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North Summit FFA program headed to nationals

(From left) Aften Ritzmen, Darren Richins, Elizabeth Mortensen, Racheal Richins and Ethan Brown, all members of the North Summit High School Future Farmers of America program, are headed to compete in the national competition next week in Louisville, Ky. The school has sent students to nationals each of the last five years. (Christopher Reeves/Park Record)
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Elizabeth Mortensen readily admits she is not an athlete.

Despite that, she didn’t want to waste her high school years and miss out on the opportunity to get involved. A search for the perfect activity led her to the North Summit High School Future Farmers of America program.

She didn’t know much about farming when she started more than a year ago. Yet, Mortensen and five of her peers are set to represent North Summit at the national FFA competition next week in Louisville, Ky.

Katie Silcox, the FFA advisor, said Mortensen’s story perfectly illustrates the beauty of the FFA program: There is a place for anyone, regardless of experience.

"There is something in the FFA program for everybody," she said. "Whether it’s the two girls who compete in public speaking because they like to be individuals and speak and stand up for themselves, or someone who’s wanting to be on a team but an athletic team didn’t fit their style. There are a lot of unique interests."

Unlike Mortensen, Ethan Brown has farming in his blood. Having grown up on a dairy farm, joining FFA and participating in the dairy judging competition was a natural fit.

"I was kind of born into it," he said.

It is because of him — as well as the contributions of his father and grandfather, who have helped instruct the dairy judging team — that the team won the state competition in April, punching its ticket to Kentucky.

"He’s like our coach," Mortensen said. "He started with the basics for me, because I didn’t know anything. And now I know a lot."

For Silcox, it has been rewarding to watch Brown and the rest of the four-member dairy judging team earn its spot at nationals, transforming from a squad with just one experienced member into the best in the state. And Silcox has had to offer little instruction because the team is motivated enough on its own.

"It’s pretty fun to watch," she said. "All they need is an adult in the room, so somebody has an eye on them, and they just work. There’s some inward desire that they want to do good. It’s all about them. They are a great example of what this program can offer.

"I was probably the most surprised when they were announced the (state) winner, because I didn’t feel like I had helped them enough. But Ethan’s dad and grandpa at the dairy had. That’s how it’s designed to work — people helping them to be successful."

In addition to the dairy judging team, two other North Summit students, Rachael Richins and Aften Ritzmen, will compete in public speaking events at nationals. That six of her students will represent the state on that level is rewarding for Silcox. It validates her belief that students from small schools can achieve big things, something not all of her students understand when they join the program.

"(FFA) gives kids an opportunity to be successful at something," she said. "I tend to find kids saying, ‘I’m just from Coalville. I can’t do that.’ Because we are a small school, we don’t have as many people to draw from. I think they get stuck in their head that they’ve got to be from someplace famous or fancy to be competitive. But in FFA, it doesn’t matter what school you’re from. The competitions are fair and equal and we can be competitive on a national level."

If there’s any doubt about that, a simple glance at the plaques lining the walls of Silcox’s classroom would prove it. This year marks the fifth straight year the school will participate in at least one event at nationals.

"I would call it a monster (streak) right now," Silcox said. "That’s a big percent of kids from a small school representing the entire state. That’s not my focus, but that has kind of been the tradition the last five or six years."

Apart from the competition, the students will participate in a variety of activities while in Louisville. Highlights of the trip include visiting Churchill Downs, the famous site of the annual Kentucky Derby, and a dinner boat cruise on the Ohio River.

"It’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Brown said.


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