By Aila Boyd

Under the leadership of Kyle Kidwell, the new agriculture teacher/FFA adviser at James River High School, the James River FFA Chapter made quite a splash at the 93rd Virginia State Convention. Eighteen students traveled to Blacksburg to participate in a wide variety of competitions June 17-20.

At session 1, James River received two awards including the Superior Chapter Award and the National Chapter Award.

“It means that we are one of the best overall chapters in our activities throughout the year,” Kidwell explained of the Superior Chapter Award, which looks at chapters all throughout Virginia.

Following the convention, Kidwell said that the students exceeded his expectations. He observed that in addition to being very respectful, the students are “very knowledgeable.”

Kidwell explained that one of the main reasons why the students attended the convention was so that they could demonstrate what they had learned over the course of the last year through various competitions.

In total, six students individually earned top 10 honors.

Daniel Holter and Jacob VanNess participated in the Talent Competition. Jacob VanNess placed second singing “I Lived It” by Blake Shelton. With his second place finish he played in front of over 1,000 people at the fourth session.

James River’s Environmental and Natural Resources team placed second overall with Ellie Holter placing first individually. Team members include Morgan Marshall, Ellie Holter, Andrew Newcomb, and Ainsley Simmons. Ainsley Simmons also placed in the top 10 at seventh place. Those four members will represent Virginia at the Big E in Massachusetts in September.

Audrey Fleming placed ninth in Employment Skills. Employment Skills is a Leadership Development Event where members competing in this event go through many interviews replicating the job interview process.

Four other members took on the long competition of Agricultural Mechanics. They placed 13th as a team. Team members include Daniel Holter, Jeff Bower, Jacob Fowler, and Hunter Deacon. Jeff Bower placed 10th individually.

Ryan Borer placed fourth individually in the Livestock CDE. Emma Harrell also competed individually.

James River also had the eighth place Dairy Evaluation team. Members are Caleb Bennington, Peyton Reese, Marcy Sowers, and Brian Howard

As well as all the members competing in competitions, James River had three members receive the second highest degree an FFA member can receive– The State Degree. Those members are Daniel Holter, Bailey Marshall, and Jeff Bower.

Kidwell, who is originally from West Virginia and previously taught at Alleghany High School, said that traveling to Blacksburg with the 18 students was quite an experience considering that he didn’t know any of them particularly well. Despite not knowing any of the students going into the conference, Kidwell said that it provided him and the students with a sort of bonding experience. “I couldn’t have asked for anything better, though. They’re a great group of kids,” he said.

After getting to know the 18 students that accompanied him to the convention, Kidwell said that he’s looking forward to the upcoming 2019-2020 school year.

“I just want to make sure what we do is needed in the community. I want to make sure we get the full potential out of each of these students and allow them to make a difference in their community and their country,” Kidwell said. “I want to make sure they realize what all is out there for them if they’re willing to put in the work.

This upcoming fall semester, Kidwell will be teaching Small Engine Repair 2, Introduction to Agriculture, and possibly Agriculture Production.

“In my opinion, this is one of the top programs in the nation,” he said of the FFA program at James River High School. “If you look at the history, especially the last few years, that really speaks for itself. I think that we have a great group of students and I’d just like to build on the success that they’ve already had.”

Information regarding the awards was provided by Andrew Newcomb.