Cleburne Times-Review, Cleburne, TX

Farm and Ranch

December 8, 2011

Cleburne FFA Jr. Skills team among top 10 at state

The Cleburne FFA Junior Skills team placed among the top 10 at Saturday’s State Leadership Convention.

The ninth-place finish by first-year ag students Cassie Camp, Junior Rodriguez and Zek Castor is a great lesson in determination, according to their teacher, Mark McClure.

The team got off to a promising start to the leadership development events fall competition season, taking the Junior Skills championship at district, as they demonstrated the “how to’s” of wiring the lights and brakes on a trailer before a panel of judges, while presenting a scripted — and memorized — explanation of the process.

But the wheels on their trailer appeared to be coming off less than five days before the area contest.

“One of the members on the team had a conflict with their schedule and had to drop out,” McClure said. “I felt we’d just have to scratch. But the team didn’t agree.”

Camp volunteered to take on the speaking part — all eight paragraphs — of the teammate they had lost. Castor, who was serving as the alternate member of the team, stepped up to take over Camp’s original role in the presentation. They had two days to prepare before presenting to judges at the area competition.

“This was like a story line from a movie,” McClure said. “They said they were a team and they had worked too hard, only to quit before the job was done. They didn’t care if they took last place; they were going to compete at area.”

And compete they did, finishing in the top five in the preliminary round and taking the area championship in the finals. The win qualified the trio for the state leadership competition, held Dec. 2-3 in Huntsville.

“We’d worked so hard,” Camp said. “I didn’t want that work to go nowhere. I was raised not to quit — but to give it all you’ve got.”

“My thoughts were we needed to find a solution,” said Rodriguez. “We just couldn’t let everything go down the drain.”

Castor, who knew some of Camp’s original part in the presentation, realized the enormity of the challenge, and was willing to take it on.

“A lot ran through my mind, but I was ready to step up,” he said. “I would say it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. It was a little rough at first, but with the encouragement of the team things went pretty well for me.”

All three agree it was truly a team effort as they reworked and refined their 20-minute presentation. Rodriguez said he felt good about going into area after all the practicing they had crammed into the two days leading up to the competition.

“I was a little iffy,” Camp said. “But I had a feeling everything would be OK. I thought our presentation at area was excellent. I told Zek and Junior that if we didn’t make it to state, we had given it all we could.”

Castor admits to some doubt going into the competition.

“Going into area, honestly, I didn’t think we could make it,” he said. “Mr. McClure encouraged us a lot. Actually, it was pretty fun. I thought we did well — but I for sure didn’t want 10th place.”

All three were nervous as the area results were announced. In FFA competitions, the results begin with the 10th place honoree and move forward.

“I had the jitters by the time they got to fifth place and we hadn’t been called,” Rodriguez said. “When they got to second place, I nearly blew up.”

Camp said by the time it got to the announcement for third place and Cleburne was yet to be called, she knew they were going to advance.

Now that they are back from the state contest, with bragging rights as one of Texas’ best in Junior Skills competition, all three agree they made the right decision, individually, and as a team.

“I’m not disappointed,” Castor said. “I can’t complain at all — 10th place or first place, I would have been happy either way. This has proved to me that I can do something if I put my mind to it. None of us ever wanted to give up.”

“To be a state finalist was amazing,” Camp said. “Everyone says your freshman year is not exciting — but everything exciting happened for me and for Junior, who is also a freshman. I have learned so much about the importance of leadership — and not quitting when it looks like that would be the easiest thing to do. It’s important to do everything you can to make things work.”

The students are already making plans for next year when they will be veteran members of FFA.

“I’d like to be on the Senior Skills Team,” Rodriguez said. “After this experience, we know what to do and how to improve. I feel this has taught me a lot about leadership, working together and how to help each other.”

McClure is very pleased with the outcome of the state competition and the efforts of both the Junior Skills Team and Cleburne FFA’s Public Relations Team which also competed.

“Both teams did great,” he said. “Both teams were made up of first-year ag students. To see students make it to state in their first year in FFA is very cool. Hopefully it’s a reflection of the future and what it will hold for us.”

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