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FFA students prepare for tractor competition
Judges assess driving and proper dismount
East Hall High School sophomore Andrew Evans, 16, gets assistance on putting the tractor into gear from Taylor Echols, 16, a junior, while practicing Monday for the Area 2 Tractor Operation and Maintenance Career Development Event as part of the school’s FFA program. - photo by SARA GUEVARA

Lacey Campbell, 16, grew up on a farm and remembers her grandfather putting her on a tractor with him. Since then, it became a fun mode of transportation.

"A lot of people up where I live use them. You see people driving down the road on tractors. They drive them to the store, to bale hay and to cut grass," she said.

On Monday, Campbell, a junior at East Hall High School serving as the chapter FFA president, competed to be the chapter's representative at the Area 2 Tractor Operation and Maintenance Career Development Event.

Campbell competed in last year's tractor CDE for the East Hall chapter.

"I did pretty good; I placed fourth out of 27," she said.

The chapter held tryouts Monday to see who will compete in today's area event at Banks County High School along with schools in Banks, Jackson, Clarke and Habersham counties, among others. North Hall High School also will have a chapter member competing.

Junior Taylor Echols, 16, had the fastest time Monday and will be competing in the Area 2 CDE for East Hall High.

The top two area CDE winners will continue on to the state competition in December, said Ben Lastly, Georgia FFA executive secretary.

"If we go by what we've had in the past, there might be around 30 drivers," Lastly said.

Campbell and Echols jockeyed with other East Hall High FFA members for the chapter's spot at today's competition.

"I'm all up for getting new people to do new things," Campbell said. "There's seven people going up against me to see if they can do better than me so they can compete."

Echols said tractors have been a big part of his life.

"I grew up around tractors, and I've been driving them since I was 13," he said. "It helps you learn skills you can use to get a job. If you can drive a tractor, you can drive a forklift or other heavy machinery."

Driving a tractor isn't much different from driving a car, so long as people know how to work a stick shift, Campbell said.

The tractor CDE not only tests students' ability to drive a tractor, but it also takes into account their knowledge of safety and tractor servicing.

Students are quizzed on causes of tractor accidents, wheel spacing, carburetor function and power stroke at the competitions.

Then it's time to get behind the wheel.

"There's a course set up, and the objective is to move around the course and make a square. Then you have to back up and hitch and unhitch a trailer," said Andrew Evans, 16, a sophomore at East Hall High. "It's not just driving, either. You can't just jump off a tractor. They're looking for proper dismounting and to make sure you turn everything off before exiting the tractor."

Monday was Evans' first time attempting the tractor CDE, which Campbell said was similar to a barrel race.

If while driving the course a student runs into one of the boundaries, they lose points.

"Knowing how to use a tractor is a really good skill to have," Campbell said. "Not everyone can afford to go to the grocery store to buy fresh fruits and stuff, so you can grow your own food."

Evans said the chapter participated in this CDE because it's a skill most in the community have.

They've been competing in the tractor competition for several years.

The East Hall High chapter has a lively history.

Edward Stowers founded the chapter and gave kids opportunities they'd never had before — traveling to state convention and all over the country for competitions, for example.

More than 40 years later, Stowers' grandson, Evans, is the chapter's reporter, helping to take the chapter to greater heights.

"We've come a long way," Evans said. "The teachers (after Stowers) have been able to get new and bigger buildings. Even though we may not be as strong as some chapters, we pull ourselves together strong for competition."


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