BANGS — It had been 80-plus years since their school had qualified anyone for a FFA national competition, according to research by current Bangs ISD agriculture teachers Caleb Gamblin and Marshal Stork. But within nine days this spring, Bangs High School qualified two teams for nationals.
“We couldn’t find anyone going to nationals since the 1930s, and we couldn’t find a state champion, either,” said Gamblin, whose FFA Agricultural Technology and Mechanical Systems (Ag Mechanics) team won state May 3 over 35 other teams from schools of all sizes. “We looked at all the banners and trophies in the ag building, plus the school yearbooks.”
Gamblin even called on his personal history with Bangs FFA. The 2007 Bangs High graduate not only participated in FFA, but his father Ricky Gamblin was a 1978 Bangs graduate and returned home to teach ag and coach FFA teams from 1997-2018.
Caleb Gamblin’s current Ag Mechanics team won state May 3 at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, but won’t compete at nationals until Oct. 30-Nov. 1 at Indianapolis. The all-male team consists of Rylan Cates, Wyatt Lykins, Trey Ivey and Samuel Packer.
The Bangs FFA Homesite Evaluation Judging team finished fifth out of 60 teams from schools from Class 1A to 6A at state competition April 25 at Tarleton State University in Stephenville. Then the Bangs team placed 15th out of 55 teams from 22 states at nationals April 29-May 3 at Oklahoma City.
The all-female Homesite Evaluation team consists of Jordyn Pitts, Skylar Hutchins, Neileigh Strickland, Madi Martin, Halle Lance and Marissa Perez. The team is coached by Stork, who’s in his 14th year at Bangs.
All 10 national-qualifying students are sophomores, but Gamblin and Stork said that in FFA competition, once you qualify for nationals, you can’t be on the same team again. Stork said he plans to switch his Homesite Evaluation and Land Judging teams next year since the competitions are similar.
“Two years ago, we had about 20 eighth-graders in our early ag class. Who would have thought that 10 of them would be going to nationals just two years later?” Stork said.
The Ag Mechanics and Homesite Evaluation teams are part of the FFA’s Career Developmental Events. Gamblin and Stork, the two ag teachers at Bangs, train about six different Career Development Event teams each spring.
“In Homesite Evaluation, the students learn to do what a soil conservationist would do in real life,” Stork said. “If you have some land and you want to build a house on it, these skills help you determine the best location using factors like the makeup of the soil and the slope of the land.”
In Ag Mechanics, Gamblin said, “They’re learning skills if they want to go into electrical wiring, construction or be a welder or a plumber. Even if they don’t go into one of these professions, they’re learning skills they can use in everyday life. Two of the students want to become engineers, and they’ll use some of these skills.”
Overall in Texas this year, 381 schools competed in both Ag Mechanics and Homesite Evaluation.
Ag Mechanics dominates state
The Bangs Ag Mechanics team didn’t just win the school’s first state title in 80-plus years, it dominated the state competition, finishing 30 points ahead of runner-up San Antonio O’Connor and 90 points ahead of third-place Bellville.
Out of 144 individuals at state, Cates finished first, Lykins finished second, Ivey fifth and Packer 36th. Lykins also had the high individual test score on a 100-question exercise over air conditioner electrical wiring, plumbing, greenhouse production, heat/air movement, concrete and building construction.
The state competition also included three 20-minute individual exercises, including (1) greenhouse efficiency; (2) concrete tools, usage and measurement; and (3) electrical circuits. Cates was the only student at state to post a perfect score in the greenhouse portion of this test.
There also is a one-hour team activity that included an irrigation system for a greenhouse table, plus materials for building a greenhouse, including a concrete foundation and electrical wiring.
“Sam and I are best at the hands-on stuff like plumbing,” Ivey said. “Rylan is good at calculations with math. We can get all the numbers going and we basically know how to do it. But if we mess up, we give it to Rylan. Wyatt is our wiring guy.”
Gamblin said Ivey and his big personality provides “comic relief” for the team. “He keeps everybody from getting too up-tight,” the teacher said.
Ag Mechanics team members usually are selected from the Agriculture Mechanics and Technology class. Team members typically not only practice during class, but also before and after school as well as on weekends.
The Ag Mechanics team starts training when school begins in August. “We start with surveying and land measuring in August,” Gamblin said. “In September, we move on to concrete and learn how to estimate orders for concrete slabs and foundations. In October and November, we move into electrical wiring, and in December, we get into electrical motor control.
“We start training hard in February and get the team into the shop.”
The Bangs Ag Mechanics team was confident after winning three practice competitions, plus the area title April 17 at Stephenville.
“I was the first one to say we were going to win state back in October,” Ivey said. “I told my dad in October that we were going to win it.”
Gamblin was concerned that his sophomores would be competing against juniors and seniors with two or three years’ experience in Ag Mechanics.
“But when we got started, I realized how smart these kids are. They’ll do anything I ask of them. They work hard and study hard,” Gamblin said. “When we started going to practice contests, I didn’t know how they’d stack up against juniors and seniors. But we won our first few events and took off from there.”
The success of this year’s Ag Mechanics team is personal to Gamblin because, not only is he from Bangs, but he replaced his dad Ricky, who retired last year after being a Bangs FFA teacher for 22 years.
“It’s exciting to carry along his legacy,” Caleb Gamblin said. “I talk to my dad several times a week for advice and questions about what our team should be doing. He’s a wealth of knowledge. Sometimes I have a concern about a particular area and he’ll say, ‘Aw, you don’t need to worry about that.’ ”
The Bangs Ag Mechanics team plans to practice over the summer. The Oct. 30-Nov. 1 national competition is part of the FFA National Convention in Indianapolis.
Homesite Evaluation team
Homesite Evaluation is a newer FFA contest, starting within the last eight years. Stork said he usually selects students for the team, but the current group of six wanted to form a team two years ago as eighth-graders. They finished 15th at state as eighth-graders, eighth last year as freshmen and fifth this year as sophomores. The fifth-place finish qualified the team for nationals.
“The girls are all friends and they wanted to do it (Homesite Evaluation) together so we let them do it,” Stork said. “They’ve done a great job. I thought when they were eighth-graders that this could be a special group. They consistently got better each year so I thought they had a chance to qualify (for nationals) this year.”
Stork said the team starts practicing in February and spends March competing in practice events leading up to area and state.
During contests, students walk into a pasture with four different sites -- four pits dug deep enough into the ground that they can walk down into them. Each team has one student in each of the four pits at a time and each student does his/her own evaluation. So it’s not a team activity, although the top three individual scores are used to determine a team score.
“They evaluate the top soil and the sub-soil underneath, including the texture of the soil. Is it thick like clay? Or is it course like sand? They are given five choices to select the soil texture,” Stork said.
“They determine the depth of the dirt and evaluate erosion. They are given some information before going into the pits to help determine erosion.
“Then they get out of the pit and calculate the slope of the land between two stakes. They’re not allowed to use a tape measure or any surveying equipment. They have to measure with things like the length of their pencil or the length of their clipboard or the length from their belt loop to the ground.
“It’s challenging because they literally have no measuring devices,” Stork said.