Switzerland County FFA chapter ranks #2 in state for second straight year

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On the final day of the Indiana FFA State Convention, officials announce which chapters in the state are the 10 best based on activities from the previous year.

The “Top 10” are all recognized, and then officials begin counting down from 10th place down to first. With each school name read off, there is celebration for members of that chapter, and heightened anticipation for those who remain.

After eight of the 10 chapters had been announced during the 2005 convention, only two chapters stood with a chance to be judged as the state’s best — Switzerland County High School and Eastbrook High School, which is located near Marion, Indiana.

It was a position that the local chapter had been in before. In fact, it stood in the exact same place one year earlier — and for the second straight year the Switzerland County group would come up one place short.

The Switzerland County FFA chapter is the second best chapter in the entire state.

“As they read off the names of the other chapters, it’s kind of exciting because you don’t really know what rank you’re going to get,” chapter president Emily Hehe said. “You stand and wait for your name to be called. Actually, you don’t want your name to be called.”

Emily Hehe and chapter secretary Abby Lanman were the two chapter representatives who made a 20-minute presentation to judges as part of the process. It was the second straight year that the duo had made the Switzerland County presentation, so both were hopeful that their experience would pay off.

“When it got down to two chapters, we’re standing there thinking, ‘we could win,’” Emily Hehe said. “We’re thinking that we could be number one in the state out of 188 chapters.”

“It’s exciting as they count down from 10,” Abby Lanman said. “As the countdown goes down, your hopes go up. There’s a lot of anticipation in the room.”

All of that anticipation came to an end when it was announced that Switzerland County was ranked second.

“When they announced us as the number two chapter, we were excited,” Abby Lanman said. “But there’s a part of you that knows that we were just one place away from being the state’s best chapter. When it happens two years in a row, it stings a little, but overall it feels pretty good.”

“Everybody wants to be first, of course,” Emily Hehe said. “But when you stop and think about it, being the second best chapter out of 188 in the state is a pretty big deal. We are all very proud of the accomplishments that this chapter has had over the past year.”

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The process of competing to be the state’s top chapter began long before the State FFA Convention convened at Purdue University June 13th-17th.

Emily Hehe said that all chapters have the option of completing the National Award Form, which must be submitted in March. It is that form that begins the process of each chapter being judged.

Emily Hehe said that the application has three different sections: community development; chapter development; and student development. Each chapter shows its work in each of those areas over the past year, outlining how its activities made a difference.

“Each chapter has to show three activities in each of the three sections,” Emily Hehe said. “So you really have to work hard to improve all three areas during the year, and you have to keep good records as to the impact that each project had in its particular area.”

The National Award Form is used to designate individual chapters with “Gold Chapter” status, and again this year Switzerland County earned inclusion in that category.

From that form, the chapters judged as “Top 10” chapters are informed of that honor in mid-May. Those chapters then go on to complete additional information forms, and those forms are sent on so that judges can prepare for the state convention and the competition to be the state’s best chapter.

Arriving at the convention on Sunday evening, members of the chapter worked to get ready for the “Top 10” interview, which was set for Monday.

Emily Hehe and Abby Lanman made the presentation to a panel of two judges. No one else was allowed in the room during the interview, but emotions ran high in the hallway.

“We had a 20-minute interview that gave us the chance to explain to the judges about our chapter and our activities that we had written about on the application form,” Emily Hehe said. “Once we finished our presentation, the judges had the chance to ask us questions about our chapter and how our projects impacted the three different development areas.”

The two judges were experts in the area of agriculture, with one being an academic advisor to the Purdue University School of Agriculture Education.

With the interview process completed, members of the Switzerland County FFA delegation went about the tasks of other programs and interviews that are part of the state convention — but all eyes were squarely pointed at Thursday and the closing session where the top chapters would be announced.

Although the chapter finished second, the Switzerland County FFA program has established itself as one of the state’s best over the long haul. The chapter is consistently in the “Top 10” among chapters; has had numerous district and state officers; and has won many district and state competitions and proficiency areas.

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Along with the second place finish as a chapter, the Switzerland County FFA organization also earned second place in the state in “project impact.” In this category, the chapter takes a specific activity and discusses its impact on one of the three development areas: community, chapter, or student.

Switzerland County presented its homeless project for the competition, where members of the chapter camped out in cardboard boxes to bring light to the problem of homeless people in this country.

Members also solicited canned goods from area homes, and then donated those items to the Quercus Grove Food Pantry for distribution to needy residents in the county.

Emily Hehe was judged as the State Winner in her proficiency area, which is Ag Communications. Clint Clements earned third place in the state in his Specialty Crop proficiency area. Both members also earned their State Degrees, which were presented during the State Convention.

Jake Haskell finished third in the freshman extemporaneous public speaking competition.