By Matt Patton, Executive Director
Most ag teachers can regale numerous stories of alarm malfunctions, suspensions, car troubles, groundings, or proms that resulted in a no-show for van loading the morning of an FFA field day. Things come up at the last minute that no one can control—that is a fact.
The same ag teachers can also tell stories about Career Development Event (CDE) teams that have imploded weeks before an event. In these cases, notifying field day hosts of an absence is the sensible and professional thing to do.
On average, four to five CDE teams never arrive on competition day for most contests. An informal survey of contest hosts, including Chico State, Modesto Junior College, Reedley College, and Fresno State, revealed that no-shows regularly occur at FFA field days. These absences often include impacted state qualifying contests with extensive waiting lists.
There have been numerous discussions in ag education during the last few years about impacted contests and access to qualifying contests for FFA members. There is frequent frustration with the inability to access contests, specifically state finals qualifying contests. These frustrations center around the adverse effects on students, who are reasonably disappointed when they can’t compete.
Each year, the schools that host field days devote extensive resources and facilities to put on CDE events. These schools solicit instructors, industry experts, and community members to volunteer time, equipment, and commodities to facilitate contests. Additionally, they absorb some of the financial obligations that accompany putting on an FFA field day.
How and Why
Everyone knows how it happens. Spots at conferences and field days are valued, and registration occurs months before the event. Chapters sign up to ensure that there is an opportunity to attend before teams have been established. Better to have a spot and not need it than the alternative. Sometimes registration occurs with an established team, but things change prior to the event. Things fall apart or do not materialize, and the coach forgets about the field day.
Fresno State has hosted the Winter FFA State Finals for decades. A tremendous amount of time and effort is dedicated to ensure that students have the best experience possible at these high-stake contests. Fresno State recruits professors, industry judges from all over the Central Valley, student volunteers, and dedicated staff members to ensure that each contest is administered effectively.
In one state finals event, for the last two in-person contests at Fresno, there have been at least six teams registered but only one team was present on the morning of the contest. In this example, the number of judges and staff outnumbered students five to one. The college professors who put on the contest rightfully questioned the validity of expending so many resources for only four students.
Some things unravel at the last minute, but often we can predict our attendance or absence many days in advance. When the field day is still a week or more away, and it becomes apparent that a team will not be able to participate, a phone call or e-mail to the field day host is warranted. The Judging Card registration site lists a contact for each field day. Communicating with the host allows them to make the necessary adjustments—like allowing another program on the waitlist to participate or reducing the number of volunteers and resources needed. By showing consideration, we can continue to sustain the positive relationships we have built with contest hosts.