Five members of Del Norte's ag mechanics team compete against 80 schools

Hours of practice, a good head for math and the ability to be flexible earned five local students a spot at the FFA California State Finals competition last month.

Senior Collin Sturdevant, juniors Connor Smith, Wyatt "Earl" Greer and Cameron Stewart and sophomore Hunter Percy are members of Del Norte High School's agricultural mechanics team, which is part of its Future Farmers of America chapter. The five students competed against more than 80 other teams at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on May 3, said DNHS agricultural teacher Robyn Parker.

Parker and Jeff Van Pelt, who heads the automotive and welding programs at the high school, coach the team. This is the team's fifth year. Its members hope to make the state finals next year and move on to the national competition.

"This is a great way to keep our two programs feeding off of each other," Parker said. "By working together, Jeff and I know we will be able to keep our programs going strong, and our kids will continue learning skills they will use for the rest of their lives."

Van Pelt described an agricultural mechanic as a "jack-of-all trades." At the competition, the students are judged on their arc welding, woodworking, electrical wiring, land surveying and problem-solving skills. The students can be asked to perform a variety of tasks from creating a U-bolt to support pipework to figuring out the area of a room.

The students have no idea what the judges will ask them to do, Van Pelt said. They are also timed.

"You're only given 30 minutes to complete a task," Connor said. "You have to get something done now. It doesn't have to be beautiful, but it's got to fix the problem. Whatever we have in 30 minutes, we get scored on."

The students are also judged on safety. Van Pelt said one team was disqualified after a student forgot his safety goggles.

"They're under a lot of pressure," he said.

To prepare for the competition season, Del Norte High students team up with students at Eureka High School. Parker said that Van Pelt has hosted joint practice sessions between Del Norte and Eureka high schools. The two schools will also share tools.

Fortuna High School also has an agricultural mechanics team that participated in the state finals, Parker said.

"We did happen to beat Eureka and Fortuna," she said.

Greer said practice and participating in agricultural mechanic competitions like the state finals is a great resume builder. He pointed out that agricultural mechanics make good money.

"You could be proficient in one area and good in others," he said. "It's a good benefit."

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