Last summer, while many of their peers practiced the teenage art of sleeping in, four Neosho High School agriculture students were preparing for a national competition.
The students — Megan Jones, 19; Caitlyn Sage, 17; Nik Manley, 17; and Zayne Aldrich, 17 — got up sometime around 6 a.m. in order to be at the high school by 7 a.m. for two hours of intense study and work.
Caitlyn, who said she will attend Crowder College in the fall and would like to teach and own a small farm, said it was tough getting up early every day in the summer knowing that “everyone else was still sleeping.”
But she said in the long run that it was worth it.
The teens — all members of the school’s Future Farmers of America forestry team — were preparing for the FFA’s National Competition held every fall in Louisville, Ky.
Of course the four only had themselves to blame for their summer schedule. If they hadn’t taken first place in the state FFA competition last April they wouldn’t have had to worry about the national competition.
Qualifying for the nationals is nothing new for the Neosho ag team. In 2011, the team took first place in the agronomy division at nationals.
Megan was on that team, and in the individual competition earned a fourth-place finish. Megan graduated last May from Neosho High School and is now a freshman at Crowder College, which means she didn’t even have to compete in the national competition.
“I had been on a national team before and I knew how exciting it is and what a great opportunity it was. Besides, I didn’t want to leave them (her teammates) hanging,” she said.
This year’s team took home a third-place award in the FFA competition, going up against teams from 40 other states. Individually, Nik earned third place; Megan, fifth place; Caitlyn, 10th place; and Zayne, 12th place.
Nik earned his third place in an interview format that required him to answer questions on a forestry topic picked at random. Mike Aldrich, agriculture teacher at Neosho High School and the team’s coach, said that Nik was given a perfect score in the event.
Nik, who also plans to go to Crowder College and eventually major in crop science, credited his strong performance in Louisville in part to his judge in the event.
“He was nice and relatable and since I knew the topic pretty well I felt confident,” he said.
Confidence, by the way, is one of many things the students said that the hard work preparing for the competition instilled in all of them.
“It has had a huge impact,” Zayne said. “It has taught us leadership skills and the importance of teamwork. Everyone has to put in the extra work to help the team.”
You may have noticed that Zayne, who plans to attend Crowder College and study fish and wildlife, and Mike share a last name. That’s because Mike is Zayne’s dad. Mike mentioned that after 31 years teaching agriculture he plans to retire at the end of the school year.
“This is Zayne’s last year (at Neosho High School) and I thought it would be nice if we go out together,” Mike said.
When Mike does retire he will do so knowing that, through his guidance, a number of kids from Neosho have or will be pursuing a career in agriculture. Megan, for example, is majoring in crop science — something that would have never crossed her mind before she started taking ag classes in high school.
“I had never been around agriculture where you produced something and did it for a living,” she said.
(I need to point out that I found out about the Neosho agriculture team from Megan’s grandfather, Larry Tennis. Larry was the Joplin police chief back in the 1980s when I worked in TV news. Larry sent me an email and mentioned that since it seems we hear more about bad kids than we do good kids, it might be nice to talk about the latter rather than the former for a change. I think Larry is correct.)
Do you have an idea for Mike Pound’s column? Call him at 417-623-3480, ext. 7259, or email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mikepoundglobe.