By Argen Duncan: PNT senior writer
For the first time in 30 years, Melrose FFA has topped 74 FFA chapters from around New Mexico with their agriculture-related evaluation skills.
Twenty-three Melrose students won the 2009 New Mexico FFA Production Sweepstakes at the state Career Development Competition April 1-3 in Las Cruces. Dora FFA came in second and Texico FFA placed third.
The scores for the Sweepstakes, an overall award, are calculated with the six top scores from team competitions in various areas.
“It was a great experience for us all,” said senior Kevin Estes, who has participated in FFA since seventh grade.
Estes said the Sweepstakes win was a great way for the seniors to end their high school careers. Melrose FFA adviser Miles Mitchell was also happy with the group’s performance.
“It was a really good feeling for the kids who worked hard,” Mitchell said.
The win also brought a really good feeling for the parents and community after 30 years, he continued.
To explain the win, Mitchell pointed to the leadership and experience of the nine seniors. Those students have been competing in FFA judging contests three to four years.
“So I really attribute a lot of our success to that group of seniors who help the younger ones and come in with their experience and win,” Mitchell said.
Estes said the FFA students came in earlier than normal this year, and Mitchell told them they could win the Sweepstakes if they worked hard.
“So from Day One, all of us were focused to do our best, and I guess in the end, it worked out for us all,” Estes said.
The students had been practicing since mid-February.
At the state contest, six top-three finishes in team competitions placed Melrose as the Sweepstakes winner.
The Land Evaluation team of Aaron Belcher, Estes, Mitchum Rush and Richard Rush took first place. The Entomology and Horse Evaluation teams placed second, while Wool, Crops and Poultry Evaluation teams came in third.
Also, the Livestock Evaluation team earned fourth place, the Wildlife Evaluation team took fifth, and the Homesite team came in sixth.
“All 23 of my kids got to walk the stage,” Mitchell said.
The FFA adviser said it was surprising his chapter won the Sweepstakes because they had fewer first-place finishes than other groups.
However, he said the second and third-place scores were within a few percentage points of the first-place scores in their competitions. That situation gave Melrose a high enough overall score to win.
“As teachers, we always hope it carries over to next year,” Mitchell said.
The win built enthusiasm, and the students realized it was a neat accomplishment, he said. The adviser hopes they will continue to work hard next year.
Also, the last Melrose FFA adviser to lead a Sweepstakes-winning chapter, Jerry Franklin, is set to attend the FFA banquet May 4. Franklin’s last year in Melrose, 1979, was the last year the chapter won the Sweepstakes until now, Mitchell said.
Franklin has been Mitchell’s mentor, and Mitchell expects to make the banquet and Franklin’s attendance a big occasion.