Leadership makes hard decision to cancel state FFA convention

Jan Shepel
One of the most anticipated events at the Wisconsin FFA State Convention is the announcement of the state officer team. This year's event will look much different.

It was “the hardest thing” to decide to cancel the 2020 State FFA Convention in Madison, says Cheryl Zimmerman, State FFA Executive Director. “It was not easy to do.”

The leadership team members for the association – including the state officer team – waited as long as they could, she said, but during a board meeting on June 1, they decided that the convention would need to be held online. “There were guidelines that were made at various levels above us that dictated what we could and couldn’t do. For instance with a guideline limiting gatherings to 100 people or less, the normal convention as everyone has known it, could not be held.”

The in-person convention was supposed to be held June 15 through 18 at the Alliant Energy Center and the virtual convention is now being planned for July 6. “We have a few things to work out before we have that online convention,” Zimmerman said.

During the online convention, FFA members that have achieved proficiency awards, been named as state officer candidates and state stars will be announced.

Another thing that went into the decision is the fact that the convention is normally held in Dane County and the county’s guidelines on large gatherings had to be taken into account.

“We had some really good conversations about how do we do this online. We were holding out hope that we could still do an in-person convention maybe later in the summer but once the county fairs started cancelling and then when the State Fair was cancelled it was pretty obvious that we couldn’t hold an in-person convention.

“But it’s not like we’re alone in this. A lot of events are being affected.”

Cheryl Zimmerman

By mid-March at least seven state FFA conventions across the country had been cancelled due to coronavirus concerns and by April 8, the National FFA’s Washington Leadership Conference was cancelled.

Zimmerman said that once schools were cancelled her board members began contemplating what they would do. By the May 1 board meeting they were talking about how they could do something online.

“One of the hard parts is that when everything started to shut down, students were competing in their Leadership Development Events – like public speaking. Some regions of the state were done and then we had to shut down the contests,” she said.

National FFA has extended the eligibility for its contests for the class of 2020. Normally students can’t participate in these events after they graduate from high school, but given the circumstances this year, those students will have another year to compete in those events if they want to.

Wisconsin FFA State Executive Director Cheryl Zimmerman says the organization is hoping to have some type of in-person event at the end of the year to honor top award winners including three of the most prestigious awards presented at the state level which includes Wisconsin Star Farmer, Star in Agricultural Placement and Star in Agribusiness.

“One of the really difficult parts of this decision is that everyone knows how much our members look forward to coming to the convention – getting together with their friends and meeting new people. We know it’s difficult for them to miss out on that,” she said. “We are still looking at some point – maybe December or January – having some kind of event with the top award winners.

“But we are excited about our online events and the fact that it will be online will mean that as well as our students, parents can check out what’s happening too.”

Zimmerman said that a decision on the National FFA Convention, normally held in Indianapolis at the end of October, will be made in mid-July. At that time leaders of the national organization will decide if it will be an in-person event or a virtual one.