Featured Rugby FFA ag technology and mechanical systems team places first at nationals | News, Sports, Jobs

Published on November 6th, 2021 📆 | 5618 Views ⚑


Rugby FFA ag technology and mechanical systems team places first at nationals | News, Sports, Jobs

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Members of the first-place team in ag technology and mechanical systems pose at the National FFA Convention in Indianapolis, Ind. From left are Kordell Kraft, Thatcher Volk, Zach Jaeger and Carson Mattern. Kraft, Volk and Jaeger are seniors at Rugby High School, while Mattern, a 2021 Rugby High grad, attends North Dakota College of Science in Wahpeton. Mattern and Kraft also received recognition for scoring in the top 10 among all individuals in the contest.

Rugby first responders and community residents gave members of the top FFA agricultural technology and mechanics team in the United States a hero’s welcome into town Oct. 30

Three members of the Rugby FFA Agriculture Technology and Mechanics team returned to Rugby after they were named 2021 National Champions in ag technology and mechanical systems at the FFA National Convention, held Oct. 25-30 in Indianapolis, Ind.

Zach Jaeger, Kordell Kraft and Thatcher Volk rode in an SUV to Rugby High School along with their advisor, Kasey Okke, who teaches ag classes at Rugby High. Their teammate Carson Mattern, who graduated from RHS in May, returned to Wahpeton, where he studies at North Dakota State College of Science.

“It’s shocking and we’re still in awe from the other day, finding this out,” said Volk after he hugged his mom in the high school parking lot. “We’re still excited about it. This is something that we’ll remember forever.”

Okke said teams from 38 states competed in the event. Winners were announced at the National FFA’s annual awards banquet.

Volk said the three-part competition “started with a welding portion. We made a vice stand. Us four worked together communicating. So, Carson and Kordell did most of the welding and Zach and I drilled holes for where the pins would go through and laying out the mapping on it. We had to work as a team to do it.”

“The next part was working with hydraulics on the (Caterpillar) skid steer,” Kraft said. “So, there were a few different parts to that. There was one part of identifying hydraulic components on the skid steer. There was another one with reading schematic diagrams and piecing those together. And then, we also had a part on reassembling the hydraulic motor. Our last part was answering questions on hydraulics in general.”

“I think we felt pretty confident that we did pretty decent. It’s so hard to tell when 20 other teams are in the same position as you are,” Jaeger said.

“I think we all felt fairly confident,” Kraft agreed. “You never know until the awards session, but the morning after we had the awards ceremony, we knew that Carson and I were in the top ten individuals and the team was in the top four. And we didn’t find out our final results until that night. It was pretty suspenseful.”

“It seemed like we were sitting there forever,” Jaeger said of the awards banquet. “They announced fourth place, and we were like, ‘Yes!’ Then, they announced third place and we were like, ‘Yes!’ And when they announced second place, I thought, ‘Please, just let us win. We’re this close!’ So, when they announced us, it was a really great feeling.”

“I kind of wish Carson was here for this,” Okke said. “He was kind of the rock of the team. He was our high individual both in the state and in nationals. He was a huge part of this.”

“We didn’t know right away if he was going to compete with us back in August when he started college. He’s in the electrical program at NDSCS,” Okke added. “They only allow them to miss so many days because they get journeymen hours in their program to become an electrician. So, he kind of pulled some strings with the help of his mom and talking to professors and stuff like that and was able to come with us and we’re sure happy he was with us.”

“I think it was definitely a team aspect,” Volk said. “We did this as a team, so not one of us outshined the other. We all did this together. So, working with each other, communicating was all a part of this national honor.”

Okke said Mattern and Kraft also placed in the top 10 individual scores in the national contest. Mattern placed fifth and Kraft placed sixth among approximately 145 individuals.

Okke said team scores played a crucial role in Rugby’s win. “I think when we were onstage and the individuals got announced before the teams did, we knew that Missouri also had two in the top ten. We were the only other chapter and only other state that got into the top ten. We knew it would be close between the two. Then, when they announced, Missouri had the number one and number three individual.”

Special time

“I don’t know what was running through these guys’ heads, but they were like, ‘Oh, man, Missouri might’ve gotten us,’” Okke said of the runner-up. “But they take all four scores and all four scores matter. These guys all finished in the top 20 in the nation. Carson was fifth; Kordell was sixth; Thatcher was 12th and Zach was 18th. So, it was pretty special. It takes a whole group. Even though you have a high individual you’re competing against and those are points you can’t gain on, we ended up winning by 13 points.”

Okke added, “In individual scores, they weren’t far behind. I think Thatcher was 0.6 points from being in the top 10 and Zach was three points from being in the top 10. It was really tight.”

Okke said he was award of one other national champion from “I think it was either 1989 or 1990 that North Dakota would put together a super team of individuals from around the state. Rugby had one individual on that team and they had won. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been an all-Rugby team that has won nationals.”

Okke later said he found out Wyatt Hoffart had won nationals in ag technology and mechanics in 1990. His coach, Quentin Christman, was also from Rugby.

All team members said they thought the national recognition would help them in their future careers. Jaeger and Kraft said they are in an internship program for diesel mechanics through Gooseneck Equipment. Volk said the experience “will help me with deciding on some stuff, but I’m uncertain yet.”

A statement from the National FFA Organization said, “The top ten individuals and the national winning team members received cash awards to recognize their success in the event. This (career development event) and all the cash awards are sponsored by Association of Equipment Manufacturers, Caterpillar, Inc., Darling Ingredients, Firestone Agricultural Solutions and U.S. Poultry and Egg Association.”

Okke thanked his team “for all their hard work. They made it a lot of fun.”

Okke added, “I want to thank the parents and families who helped them. Brad Wangler with Rugby Electric came in and worked with us on the electrical portion. Gooseneck Implement helped. In our spring contest, they brought in a live baler and a live tractor and they allowed us to look at them before the state convention. And a week before we left, these guys spent a few hours with their hydraulics trainer. So, they volunteered their time and went out of their way to line up stuff for these guys.”

“Bruce Gannarelli, who used to be a welding instructor at Rugby High helped us learn how to do the flux core welding,” Okke added. “He talked me through how to set up the machine and all that. The Rugby Eagles Club donated money to pay for our work uniforms when we were down there. The Rugby FFA Alumni chipped in money for us to go. The North Dakota State FFA Foundation and the State Alumni gave us travel scholarships to go. The Rugby Jaycees paid for our plane tickets. Lots of people either contributed financially or by helping us gain knowledge. It was a huge community effort. We have a lot of gratitude toward everybody.”

Okke added, “I also want to thank the police and firefighters for their escort into town.” Okke also offered his thanks to the North Dakota Agricultural Educators Association. “The group of ag teachers is a really tight-knit group that always helps out and supports each other.”

Lisa Volk, Thatcher Volk’s mom, said, “Us moms would like to say from day one, Mr. Okke led these guys to be national winners. He organized it and prepared them in a way that he knew that he had a team that was going to win, so thank you to Mr. Okke.”

“All of us agree we couldn’t have done it without him,” Kraft said.

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