A group of Polk County High School seniors has learned much during their time on campus in agriculture classes and FFA activities.

Perhaps the most valuable knowledge they’ve gained during the past three years, though, comes from a lesson they never expected – the value of patience.

PCHS seniors Katie Campuzano-Gomez, Lacey Gosnell, McKenna Hill and Chan Barber made school history in late 2019 when they took top honors at the 66th Annual North Carolina FFA Association Land Judging Career Development Event. The youngest PCHS team to win the state competition, the group’s title also meant qualifying for the 2020 National Land and Range Judging Contest in Oklahoma City.

The global coronavirus pandemic, though, cancelled that competition, then did the same for the 2021 event.

But being the youngest state champions in school history offered, two years later, an unexpected but welcome outcome – all four students are still at PCHS, and the quartet is finally set to take its run at a national championship during the 2022 contest, set for May 3-5 in Oklahoma City.

“They were fortunate enough to be young when they won,” said PCHS agriculture teacher Chauncey Barber. “All the other teams have aged out.”

“Working extremely hard to place first in the state in 2019 and realizing our dream of qualifying for 2020 Nationals, COVID took that away,” Hill said. “Even again in 2021, we hoped we might get to go, only to have it cancelled again. We were devastated finding out what we had worked so hard for was once again gone.

“Having the chance to go now means so much. Nationals was a goal had set early on and now to know we will finally get to finish what we worked so hard for as a team is a dream coming true.”

Displaying the results of their hard work at the 2019 state contest were, from left: McKenna Hill, Lacey Gosnell, Katie Campuzano-Gomez and Chan Barber

The group’s 2019 state title was no fluke – the foursome won the state junior land judging championship in 2018. In winning the senior title at the 2019 competition in Ashe County, Hill and Chan Barber finished 1-2 in the individual competition, with Gomez and Gosnell also in the top 10.

“I’m glad it’s finally here,” Chan Barber said. “After being postponed for two years due to COVID-19 and now being able to go is a dream come true. I am thankful our team got started early so that we are able to attend this year’s competition.

“This trip is going to be a memory I will never forget.”

The land judging competition encourages students in grades 7-12 to analyze land characteristics such as soil type, erosion and drainage to determine the best possible use. Knowledge about soils can be organized and applied in managing farms, fields, and woodlands, developing communities as well as engineering work. Students are able to comprehend why soils respond differently to management practices and how soil properties affect crop growth and urban uses as well as environmental concerns.

This will not be the first team that Chauncey Barber has taken to Oklahoma City. But the uniqueness of the circumstances, plus the presence of his son on the team, undoubtedly will make it a journey he will not forget.

“This team is like a family of four and truly cares for each other,” the longtime PCHS teacher said. “They have always worked together and are appreciative of each other.

“They set goals to be state champions in the junior and senior divisions and now want to be national champions. It has been an honor to be their coach and they have been a loyal bunch.”

Former school agricultue teacher Richard Smith will accompany Barber and the team to Oklahoma City. Anyone interested in helping sponsor the team’s trip to Oklahoma should contact Chauncey Barber at (828) 894-2525 or cbarber@polkschools.org.

The group will leave Polk County on May 1 and plans to return May 6, hopefully with more hardware in hand.

“After being postponed for the past two years, I’m beyond excited to say that we are finally able to attend the National Land Judging Competition in Oklahoma,” Gosnell said. “This trip will allow us to showcase all of the hard work we’ve put in and provide us with an opportunity to represent the Polk County FFA Chapter well at the national level.”

“This opportunity is very exciting to me because I will finally be able to see the accumulation of all of the efforts that I and my team have put in over the years,” said Campuzano-Gomez. “Going to compete in Oklahoma is the perfect way to wrap up my senior year of high school.”