Hermiston FFA student Zachary Vandehey wins national title

From left, Zachary Vandehey, Jaycee Barron and Reilly Mason pose for a photo after placing fourth in the agriculture communications category. Vandehey was the national individual champion in the category and was honored with a $1,000 cash prize.

When Hermiston High School graduate Zachary Vandehey heard his name read, announcing he had won the national FFA individual title in agricultural communications last week, he almost couldn’t believe it.

Following months of preparation and a solid presentation and set of practicums, Vandehey said he knew his team was going to do a good job. And, last week, after the competition was over, he thought he had done well. He just didn’t know how well, exactly.

Vandehey said that leading up to announcements of the top winners, he thought he hadn’t made the cut.

“Right before they said my name, it was, ‘Well, I guess I’m out,’ ” he said. “Leading up to that, I was hoping someone would get top spot in either a practicum or individual, somewhere in the ranks, just to give some reassurance that we had those high points for our team score. I was in disbelief for a few moments when they read off my name.”

When he heard his name, Vandehey said he looked at his adviser, Leah Smith, who looked equally shocked.

“I think all of us were just completely taken off guard with all of that,” he said. “I know I didn’t expect it at all.”

Vandehey and his teammates on the agriculture communications team, seniors Jaycee Barron and Reilly Mason, spent two days in Louisville, Kentucky, for the national FFA convention, where each divided roles in giving a 15-minute presentation on Hermiston’s Full Moon Market, took a media editing and grammar quiz and participated in their individual practicums.

For their presentation, each of the team members shared equal responsibilities in presenting financial projections and research on the market, how they would promote it to certain age demographics and more. For their individual practicums, Vandehey’s focus was in blog writing, Barron was responsible for feature writing and Mason was responsible for graphic design.

Because Vandehey won the individual portion for the category, he was awarded a $1,000 scholarship.

Vandehey plans on placing his prize money in a savings account for his future business ventures as a farmer. He said he has always wanted to go into that line of work and one day own his own farming business. Right now, he said he is working for Dan McCarty at his ranch in Echo, doing everything that needs to be done.

Vandehey’s team also placed extremely well, garnering a fourth-place finish at nationals. The other team members said they were also partially in disbelief when they learned they had done so well as a team.

Each of the teams competing are separated into bronze, silver and gold categories based on their overall team score, Barron said. She said she and her teammates’ goal was to get gold, and when they found out they had obtained that, they were ecstatic. When they found out they placed in the top four, however, she said they were beyond excited.

“When they got to the top four was when we started freaking out,” Barron said. “I wasn’t expecting a fourth-place finish.”

Mason said to learn they had done so well for all the hard work they had put in was really rewarding.

“Sometimes it gets nerve-wracking, but it was all worth it,” she said.

Smith said she is very proud of the team, adding each student will be able to use the skills they cultivated through FFA for the rest of their lives.

“Agriculture communications is truly an academic career development event,” she said. “While the foundation of FFA stands on production agriculture, it is also producing a generation of young adults who can make a tremendous impact on our society and agriculture industry without even touching a cow or plow. These three kids are so deserving of this honor.”

Hermiston’s meats evaluation team also did well at nationals. The team, composed of seniors Taylor Katsel and Ashley White and juniors Brady Linell, Halie Kennicott and Jessica Smelser, placed 12th in the national competition.

For their competition, the team memorized more than 100 retail cuts of meat and 20 primal cuts for swine, lamb and beef, on which they were quizzed at the national event. The students also had to calculate the yield and quality grades of meat, simply by looking at the meat. The students also were tested on a variety of information from the meat industry, including meat cuts, meat preparation, food-borne illnesses and more.

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