Tonasket frosh shock at FFA state

Janelle Catone, Madison Bayless, Jordan Hughes, Rade Pilkinton, Jenna Valentine and Rachel Silverthorn react as they receive their state championship trophy in Rituals at the Washington State FFA Convention last weekend.
Janelle Catone, Madison Bayless, Jordan Hughes, Rade Pilkinton, Jenna Valentine and Rachel Silverthorn react as they receive their state championship trophy in Rituals at the Washington State FFA Convention last weekend.

Rituals team wins state title, heads to nationals

PULLMAN – When the Tonasket FFA’s parliamentary procedure team went to the national convention two years ago, ag teacher Matt Deebach thought called it a once-in-a-career experience.

Turns out Deebach was wrong.

Six Tonasket freshmen, competing in Rituals (a novice version of parli pro for freshmen to compete in), won the state title last weekend at the Washington State FFA Convention in Pullman and will be making their own trip to nationals this fall.

“I don’t think we’ve ever had a team place higher than seventh,” said Deebach, who has built the Tonasket program into a powerhouse since coming to the district in the mid-90s. “This was the first time they’d ever been there in front of that type of crowd. Some of these contests are necessarily full, but this one is. It’s not like you can just show up at State; teams get weeded out. So everyone is good.”

Deebach noted that many of the larger schools have middle school FFA programs, so their students enter high school with a couple of years experience on groups from smaller schools.

“They’re judged on speaking, clarity and correctness,” Deebach said.

Tonasket sent 42 students overall to the convention, the third-largest contingent in the state despite competing against schools of all sizes. Many of them competed in more than one event.

The Tonasket contingent included three Rituals teams that had swept the top three spots in district competition this spring. The state champion group included Madison Bayless, Janelle Catone, Jordan Hughes, Rade Pilkinton, Rachel Silverthorn and Jenna Valentine. Bayless’ older sister, Haley, was on the national runner-up parli pro team in 2011.

They will be traveling to Louisville, Kentucky, Oct. 28-Nov. 2 to compete for national honors.

Rituals includes the execution of the opening ceremony, a trimmed down version of the parli-pro competition, and for those in the finals, a written test.

“A lot of the other coaches question Matt’s approach,” said George Hill, who has been Deebach’s volunteer assistant for about a decade. “A lot of them believe you should just concentrate on four, five or six kids to get the highest finishes at these things. I don’t think they like it when they see us bringing in 40 kids.

“But I think it’s better to give those 40 kids a chance to experience something like this. And as you can see, he’s still getting those results.”

Tonasket’s parli pro team of Sadie Long, Alicia Edwards, Kathryn Cleman, Cassie Spear, Sierra Hughes and Grace Maldonado, a contender for the state title, brought home fourth place, which Deebach said wasn’t the easiest finish to accept, despite tying for the second-highest finish ever for a Tonasket team.

“When your expectations are so high, it’s not easy, even when you accomplish something that hardly anyone ever does,” Deebach said. “They really should be proud. I know I’m very proud of them.

“When I first started teaching, I was just hoping to occasionally get a team into the top eight, let alone the top four. So many of these schools have seven or eight ag teachers and can pick and choose the best they can offer to compete. It’s pretty unreal to think they’d be feeling disappointed when in all reality I had a hard time imagining us ever being in the running.”

The Ag Issues team – a group that included Wyatt O’Brien, Kelly Cruz, Claire Thornton and Maldonado – also had an outstanding day but lost out on a chance to compete for the state title thanks to tiebreak criteria.

“That was a heartbreaker,” Deebach said. Tonasket finished tied with another school for the final position to get out of their flight into the finals. The team that won the tiebreak ended up as the state runner-up.

“They were as good as those other teams,” Deebach said. “That was a tough one to swallow.”

Tonasket FFA was also recognized for a number of awards earned earlier in the year. Breanna Howell brought home Bronze 1 in Equine Science Entrepreneurship and fifth in state in Horse Evaluation; Karlie Henneman earned Bronze 2 in Equine Science Entrepreneurship Placement; Dalton Wahl took Bronze 1 in Beef Production Placement; Jessica Puente earned Silver 1 in Fruit Production (with her work forwarded on for national consideration); Maldonado received Bronze 2 in Fruit Production; and Tonya Nelson received Bronze 1 for Swine Entrepreneurship. Breanna Howell, Brisa Leep, Vanessa Pershing, Elizabeth Jackson and John Symonds also took second in the state in horse judging last fall.

Receiving their state degrees were Edwards, Henneman, Long, Maldonado, Nelson, O’Brien, Puente, Thornton, Wahl, Breanna Hughes and Sierra Hughes.

Also, 2012 graduates Trent Turner and KB Kochsmeier received their American Degrees.

Deebach also noted that Robert Colbert, a Tonasket FFA alum now working for Callaway and Detro, PLLC, is now on the state board of directors and is going to be the legal counsel for the statewide organization.

“I don’t know if he’s the first ever from Okanogan County to be on the board,” Deebach said, “but certainly he’s the first in recent history.”

The weekend was complicated by the fact that a number of the state FFA participants also compete on the Tonasket track and field team, which had its district meet on Friday afternoon, and any who hoped to qualify for regional or state in track needed to be there as well. As a result, middle school principal Jay Tyus and school board member Lloyd Caton ferried groups of kids between Pullman and Tonasket so they could compete in both competitions.

“I don’t know what we’d have done without them, and the rest of our chaperones were just awesome,” said Deebach. Those included Hill, Shannon O’Brien, Teresa Hughes, Pam Leslie and Amanda Chase. “We have to provide judges for all these events too, so it’s more work than just looking after the kids.”

Deebach said he’s convinced that, regardless of finish, competing at state was beneficial for each of the kids who went.

“Every one of them learned something,” he said. “Win, lose or draw, they all learned something about themselves, and they learned things that they can carry throughout their lives. Hard work, determination and dedication are things you carry with you forever and can use wherever you are in life.”