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Enka FFA state champs to compete nationally, raise money for trip

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North Carolina 1st Place  Agricultural Mechanics Team: Emily Brooks, Davis Fender, Travis Pitillo, Jared Cathey

By Pete Zamplas- Four students on Enka High School’s FFA state championship team are raising money to go to the national competition next month.

A fish fry to benefit FFA is Friday, Sept. 26, in conjunction with the homecoming varsity football game versus North Buncombe that starts at 7:30 p.m.

The four are seniors Emily Brooks and Jared Cathey, junior Travis Pittillo and 2014 grad Davis Fender. They compete individually. Collectively, their scores earned Enka the 2013-14 state title in June. Fender delayed his start in studying engineering in college to work and in part for this contest.

It is part of the 87th National FFA Organization Convention and Expo in Louisville, Ky. starting Oct. 29 and involving nearly 60,000 youth.

Enka FFA faculty advisors are Kevin Franklin and Neal Atherton. Franklin has taught agricultural (“ag”) classes at Enka for nearly 20 years. Atherton has taught in the school for 16 years, in physical and earth sciences and is in his second year focusing on ag classes.

He said FFA needs about $2,000 of the nearly $5,000 it will cost to send, house and feed the four contestants and other FFA Leadership Club officers to attend conference seminars. Brooks is president. Other officers are V.P. Jessica Morrow, Treasurer Pittillo, Secretary Meghan Banks and Reporter Lindsie Crigger. The students plan to leave Oct. 28, and return Nov. 1.

FFA activities are year-round, even in summer. FFA is what the national organization goes by, and since 1986 no longer goes by Future Farmers of America. That is to reflect its focus branching out beyond farming into other job fields, Atherton noted. “Agriculture is the largest employer in this state. It ranges from landscape architecture to tractor manufacturing, from seed production to keeping the golf course green. Our students become genetic engineers, veterinarians and teachers.”

Enka agriculture-related courses include “ag mechanics” such as working on farm small engines, agri-science, ag production and also applications, horticulture, and natural resources. Stemming soil erosion is a facet of natural resources. Field trips include to various area corn mazes as examples of agri-tourism. In Henderson County, other attractions include kiddie rides and small petting zoos to draw more people to retail-selling farms.

Pittillo, who was second overall in the state as a sophomore, said of all FFA skills, “I enjoy welding the most. You can make anything that you could ever need. All you need is a welder and metal, and you are good to go.” He said FFA “gives me so many opportunities to ‘better’ myself in life, learn many skills, and have college and job options.”

FFA contests typically challenge students in such tasks as welding, or electrical work such as “on a series of three-way switches,” Atherton said. He quipped FFA students these days are “high-tech” and not simple “rednecks. Our students are dedicated, very capable and highly intelligent in many skill areas.” He said Enka’s foursome are versatile in skills, finishing well in such areas as tool identification, forestry and truck driving.

A group problem-solving challenge might be to “build a wire greenhouse or pump system,” Atherton noted. He said Enka’s four are adept logical progression, cohesion and sharing in forming a plan of action. “They understand the concept of ‘team.’ None say ‘pay attention to me.’ They communicate quite well, to figure what to do. One might come up with a better idea, and the others listen. Their goal is ‘let’s get it done.’”

Pittillo said, “we all get along great. We all put forth ideas. Then we take the best from each of the ideas. We put them all together, to make a great plan. Our team works great together. We all have great skills. That makes the best team we could have. I think our team has a very good chance to do great at Nationals.”

FFA’s holiday plant sale begins around Thanksgiving, with about 400 poinsettias (at $6 each) and Christmas cacti at $6-$12 varying by size. To donate for the FFA trip, call Enka High School at 670-5000 and ask for Neal Atherton.

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