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FFA team scores 7th at nationals, individual takes home top honors

The Frazee-Vergas FFA team took seventh place in the national FFA Forestry Development Event during competition last month in Indianapolis. They are led by advisor Ken Hammer, left. The team consists of Melissa Schilling, from left, Arthur Schilling, Melissa Kiehl and Trevor Adams, who also took first place in the competition for individuals. Submitted Photo

If you need to know anything about timber cruising, tree identification or any other forestry topic, there's a team of high schoolers in Frazee that can help.

Trevor Adams, Melissa Schilling, Sarah Kiehl and Arthur Schilling took seventh place out of 38 FFA forestry teams in the nation. Adams took home the top spot for individuals in the nation, which earned him $1,000 cash.

"I was shell shocked and I think he was too," Frazee-Vergas High School teacher and FFA advisor Ken Hammer said of when Adams was named No. 1 in the nation. "I just wanted to scream."

After the emcees had read off the five through 10 individual winners during the nationals competition last month in Indianapolis, Hammer said they thought there was no chance for winning one of the top five spots for individual.

"It's super amazing," he said.

Only one other Frazee student has placed in nationals, and that was Joe Stinger in 1988, who took ninth in dairy foods. The dairy foods team as a whole has competed in nationals four times over the years, and the forestry team also went in 2003.

The team this year has a wide variety of experience and interest, too.

"It sounded fun to me. I knew a little about trees," Adams said of when he started working on forestry in eighth grade. Now a junior, he said forestry is likely something he'll go into for a career.

"I'm planning forestry because I enjoy doing it," he said as a future career option.

On the other end of the spectrum is Kiehl, also a junior.

"I was pulled in a month before nationals. I'm usually with small animals," she said.

Hammer said it's impressive that Kiehl started from zero, knowing nothing about forestry until one month before nationals. Yet she finished in the middle of all the competitors, earning a silver emblem.

"We got her from ground zero to beating half the students there," he said.

The Schillings and Adams all three earned gold emblems.

"Both of my brothers were in it so I followed them," Melissa Schilling said was why she chose to study forestry.

Melissa, who is an eighth grader, said her brother, Arthur, is in his first year of college but since he was in high school during the state competition, he is eligible to compete with the team at national level.

On their climb to nationals, the forestry team took first at regionals and then again at state.

"We were pretty surprised when we took first at state. We didn't expect it," Adams said.

At nationals, the students competed in the events individually, and then their scores were added together for the team score. They took part in a written exam, various practicums and then one team activity.

During the practicums, there are multiple categories the judges could make the students do, and the students have no idea what practice they'll be tested on until a few minutes before the competition.

Students have to "be prepared because they just throw it at you," Adams said.

The other teams of students who placed just above the Frazee team edged them out by merely a couple points.

"We easily could have moved up -- but I guess everyone could say that," he said.

Once the students take first in state or complete in nationals in a certain division, like forestry, they are no longer eligible to compete in it again. Therefore, Kiehl is studying small animals and Adams is competing in wildlife for their remaining time in FFA. Schilling, since she competed in forestry in eighth grade, has plenty of time to compete in other divisions. She said she plans to compete in wildlife for now.

"FFA is a great thing to be in. If you have the chance to participate, I would recommend it," Adams said, adding that students get the opportunity to network and meet lots of people through the competitions.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.