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MADISON - The energy level inside the Exhibition Hall at the Alliant Energy Center will increase exponentially when thousands of FFA members from across the state enter its doors for the 89th Wisconsin FFA Convention next week.

"You can just feel the energy of the students because they're so excited to be here and participate; clapping their hands, singing along and cheering on their fellow FFA members, said Cheryl Zimmerman, Wisconsin FFA executive director. "It's fun to see them compete and succeed and see the sportsmanship and camaraderie develop with students from across Wisconsin whose common bond is ag education and the FFA."

This year the Wisconsin Association of FFA will celebrate 89 years of premier leadership, personal growth and career success during the convention's four-day run, June 11-14.

While Wisconsin's 250 FFA chapters boast a membership of just over 19,000 members, Zimmerman says the convention is expected to draw around 3,500 members, advisors, parents, alumni and sponsors to celebrate their year's success and support for students involved in agricultural education.

"FFA members will be busy attending main sessions as well as workshops, participating in competitions associated with our leadership development events and AgriScience Fair, touring local businesses and industries, voting on items of FFA business and meeting new friends from all areas of the state," Zimmerman said.

A decade of service

During their first day in Madison, groups of FFA members will fan out across the city to lend a helping hand, performing community service at several work sites during the Day of Service, now in its tenth year.

"The Day of Service is an important addition to State FFA Convention because serving is one of the most important parts of being an FFA member," Day of Service Coordinator Beth Rieth. 

“Living to Serve” is the last line of the FFA motto and Rieth says FFA members are excellent examples of service, either at convention or back home in their local chapters. 

Oakwood Village University Woods is just one of six sites where students perform community service in the greater Madison area.

"With their aid, an incredible amount of brush and cut wood was moved out of the Nature Preserve here that the older adult residents at Oakwood enjoy on a daily basis," Oakwood Village Horticulturist Savannah Conradt told Rieth afterward. "Because of the group’s hard work, the trails and scenery within the preserve have been vastly improved and their work has not gone unnoticed!"

Rieth says that by the end of the day on Monday (June 11) FFA members will have provided 3,750 volunteer hours to the Madison community through the Day of Service since it began in 2009. 

Students also provide manpower during the FFA Rally to Fight Hunger. This service event helps to feed children and adults living in the greater Madison area. Prior to the official opening of the convention, 475 members and advisors from FFA chapters across the state will work with Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin, assembling food packages to provide relief from hunger and malnutrition.

"Through the Rally to Fight Hunger, we will also have packaged over 250,000 meals that were donated to Second Harvest Foodbank," Rieth said.

Stars Over Wisconsin

Among the top prizes coveted by FFA members are the four 'Stars Over Wisconsin' awards which include the Star Farmer Award, Star in Ag Placement, Star in Agribusinss and Star in AgriScience.

Finalists for these awards are as follows: Star Farmer — Emily A. Pintens, Barron; Colin R. Wussow, Bonduel; Brandon P. Cafferty,Cochrane-Fountain City; Jillian Tyler, Granton; Mikayla Endres, Lodi; Alexis Kwak, Prairie Farm; Sarah Albers, Sauk Prairie; Brianna L. Leahy, Shullsburg; Taylor A. Eilers, Waupaca and Devon Zimmerman, Waupun.

Star in Ag Placement finalists are — Naomi J. Fogel, Cochrane-Fountain City; Hannah Nelson, Ellsworth; Brandon A. Strupp, Hartford; Mikayla Endres, Lodi; Mason Gukenberger, Marshfield; Levi H. Alsum, Randolph Cambria-Friesland; Edwin A. Schott, Sauk Prairie; Lance Lierman, Shullsburg; Logan Pluim, Waupun and Shad Goplin, Whitehall.

Those tapped as finalists for the Star in Agribusiness competition are — Anne C. Runde, Janesville Craig and Logan A. Paul, Randolph Cambria-Friesland

And the lone finalists for the Star in Agriscience is — Danielle Wrzesinski, Big Foot.

From the finalists listed in each of the Four Star Categories an overall winner in each Star area will be announced at the final evening session on Wednesday.

Zimmerman says that many of the students nominated as finalists for the top awards move on to successful careers.

"Some of these people are now farming full-time and some have gone on to develop their own businesses," Zimmerman said. "When you think of what those students were able to start with (in their Supervised Agriculture Experience program) while they were in high school and then able to have something established as they move on...there are some great success stories out there."

One of the most rigorous competitions of the convention is that of FFA members vying to become members of the state officer team. To even be considered as a state officer candidate, interested FFA members must fill out a comprehensive application including an extensive list of FFA, school and community activities and achievement.

In addition, they must send along a resume. Candidates then must pass that resume along to their peers (delegates) of their respective section to peruse, in addition to giving extemporaneous speeches. If selected as one of the top two candidates from their section, members must participate in a series of interviews on Monday, followed by a written test and writing activity the day after.

Then they huddle among members of their section, waiting breathlessly for their name to be called to fill one of 10 positions (each representing a section) to serve as a state officer.

"When I was running, I remember being pretty nervous, but I found comfort in getting to know the other candidates, some of which ended up being my teammates," said Ciera Ballmer who served as president of the state officer team. "Since we all went through the process together, talking with my fellow FFA members and candidates make the selection process a fun and positive journey and an excellent learning experience."

Zimmerman says the role of a state officer is an awesome opportunity and provides members with life-long skills.

"During the year that I spend with them, I get to watch as they develop professionalism, teamwork and communication skills and make so many new contacts," she said. "It really makes them more marketable when searching for careers or job opportunities when people know they've been a state FFA officer."

Ballmer says her year-long experience has proven to her that the agricultural industry is filled with amazing people.

"The blue jacket can spark so many connections and great memories to share!" she said.

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