Silver Linings

Tonasket FFA Ritual team (pus Washington State Star Agribusiness winner John Symonds, far right) toured a number of of tourist attractions during their trip to the FFA national convention last week. Submitted photos

Tonasket FFA Ritual team (pus Washington State Star Agribusiness winner John Symonds, far right) toured a number of of tourist attractions during their trip to the FFA national convention last week. Submitted photos

Tonasket FFA forced to recalibrate expectations

LOUISVILLE, KY – When the expectation is to win a national title, the best you can do is meet them.

The Tonasket FFA Rituals team found out that sometimes, that isn’t going to work out. Adjusting those expectations helped the group of seven Tonasket High School sophomores gain more from their trip to the FFA national convention than they had expected.

Serenity Poletti, Lexi Wahl, Brendan Asmussen, advisor Matt Deebach, Hunter Swanson, Johnna Terris, Seth Smith and Bonnie Siegfried earned silver metal honors in Rituals.

Serenity Poletti, Lexi Wahl, Brendan Asmussen, advisor Matt Deebach, Hunter Swanson, Johnna Terris, Seth Smith and Bonnie Siegfried earned silver metal honors in Rituals.

It wasn’t that the team performed poorly. Their silver medal meant that they placed in a tier between seventh and 15th in the nation (only the top six get actual rankings). But what would have been cause for wild celebration the first time Tonasket had a team make a national convention experience was more difficult to swallow.

Seth Smith, Bonnie Siegfried, Johnna Terris, Hunter Swanson, Serenity Poletti, Brendan Asmussen and Lexi Wahl said they enjoyed the experience, but are already working toward winning a state title in Parliamentary Procedure (Rituals is the freshman level of parli pro) and making a return trip.

“It was disappointing for sure,” said FFA adviser Matt Deebach. “But it shows the kids how difficult it really is.

“I was in a seminar to become an accredited parliamentarian, so I took a four hour test hwile I was there too. There were 14 teachers in there and I was the only one with any national placers. So when you think about what the expectations were and what we’ve accomplished, it just doesn’t happen very often where you get to place in the nation.”

“We learned that just because we went down there to compete, there are consequences for not maybe doing everything we could have,” Siegfried said. “We studied hard but looking back could have studied harder. No matter how confident we are, we can still always find someone better than us. That just gives us more room to grow.

“We were (upset) about it but we grew together and got over it. We became closer, and were happy we went together.”

Deebach said the toughest feeling for all of them to process was the thought that they may have let people in the community down by not matching the finish of previous teams.

“I know by the emotions they felt and everything else, they were really invested,” he said. “They didn’t want to let the community down, the school down. When they didn’t make the finals, that happened even though the kids had worked hard and really wanted to accomplish their goal. Sometimes that’s a good lesson in life; sometimes you have to recalibrate your goal when things don’t work out.

Lexi Wahl and Seth Smith make a point.

Lexi Wahl and Seth Smith make a point.

“I hope everyone in the chapter learned that there is some little school somewhere that is doing everything they can because they want to accomplish their goals too. It’s hard to be on top and keep being on top.”

The week at the national convention was about more than just the competition. The Tonasket crew spent time at a lot of unique area attractions, including the Indianapolis 500 Speedway, the Louisville Slugger baseball bat museum, Mammoth Caves, Shadwell Farm, and more.

“It was wonderful,” Terris said. “We went to a bunch of different spots. I think my favorite was the Louisville Slugger museum. AS far as the competition, we met a whole bunch of new people. We unfortunately didn’t get to see how other people did it because we were the last ones to go in our flight. We weren’t able to see the variations, which was sad.”

Meeting people from different parts of the country was a highlight for the whole team.

“The experience itself was great, especially meeting new people,” Smith said. “Not many people get to compete at the national level and fly to Kentucky for a week with their friends. I think it was a great experience.”

“They opened things up so you could go around and talked to the other (FFA competitors),” Asmussen said. “We hung out with pretty much everyone but the people in the first couple flights.”

“I really liked meeting all those different people from different states,” Siegfried said. “All the accents, they were fun. They taught me how to say ‘Louisiana’ the way they do.

“And Shadwell Farm was my favorite place to visit. It’s a breeding facility for retired race horses. Their stud fees were up to $8 or 10 million.”

“I liked Mammoth Caves,” Wahl said. “It’s the biggest underground cave in the world, and we got to go inside of it. That was really cool.

“That and Joe’s Crab Shack (which catered especially to the 60,000 attendees).”

The FFA group kisses the bricks at the Indianapolis Speedway.

The FFA group kisses the bricks at the Indianapolis Speedway.

They even had an experience no one had bargained for: while touring the Indy 500 track, someone broke into the team van and stole a number of items. It turned out to be the beginning of a car theft epidemic as 11 other vans also were broken into during the week.

“Deebach warned us that we were going to be in the big city and we needed to be careful with our things,” Poletti said. “We were thinking nothing would happen – but then at the Indy 500, all our stuff got stolen out of our van.”

The team also said that the squad the most feared, California (which ended up winning its third consecutive national title) turned out to be composed of kids that they liked.

“The people who thought of as our biggest competition, California, were really nice,” Poletti said. “It was sad we didn’t make it to the finals, but we got to see what the national level was like.”

California and national runner-up Texas were in Tonasket’s flight, making the competition tough from the get-go.

“We got a little unlucky with our flight,” Deebach said. “I don’t know if we would have gotten through (in another flight), because we did make some mistakes. It might have been close, but you have to beat you’ve got to beat.

“The kids were a little intimidated by them. Yet Washington has been doing well the past few years and other teams were intimidated by us a little bit too.”

In the end, it became about more than just winning a very difficult competition.

We went in focused on winning,” Smith said. “After the competition we realized we were there to experience it, all not just win.”

“The kids were (floored) about the support from the FFA alumni, local business and community members,” Deebach said. “They were going to send us back to Kentucky and we were going to represent them. The let down wasn’t just for themselves, but what would people think that supported them. Even I felt that a little bit for the first time, too.

“But taking a step back and looking at it, it really was an accomplishment, it was good. Our own expectations were the thing that made it hard.”

Tonasket FFA forced to recalibrate expectations

About Brent Baker

Brent, is a former reporter/photographer for the Gazette-Tribune and sometimes works as a freelance sports reporter for the G-T. Prior to working at the G-T, he was the sports editor for Sunrise Publishing from 2000-2005 in Michigan. He subsequently owned and operated Buckland Media, a high school sports website, in Michigan until 2010. He and his wife Kim, who have an adult son, moved to Tonasket in 2010. Brent worked as a full time reporter/photographer at the G-T from 2011 - 2014).