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Volk reflects on national championship, FFA career

Thatcher Volk

Thatcher Volk

Those who have participated in FFA often describe many different “cool” experiences they’ve had as part of the organization, but for Thatcher Volk of Rugby, N.D., his experience was truly extraordinary.

Volk and his teammates, Zach Jaeger and Kordell Kraft, returned home to north central North Dakota on Oct. 30 after being crowned national champions in ag technology and mechanical systems at the National FFA Convention earlier that week in Indianapolis, Ind. Waiting for them was an escort from local first responders, as well as the local fire and police departments.

Community members welcomed the champions back home, honking their horns and holding up signs congratulating them on their once-in-a-lifetime accomplishment.

“It was such a cool experience,” Volk said.

The national championship was the culmination of years of hard work, Volk said, who has been involved with FFA since the eighth grade.

“I think FFA is a unique organization where a lot of these farm kids who don’t get off the farm that often get to go and meet each other and make new friends,” he said. “I’ve met a whole bunch of people from all around the state and some of those have become my closest friends. It’s just a great organization. There’s a lot of learning to be done, but you learn that the hard work pays off.”

For their national championship team, the hard work got started last August. With the help of their FFA coach, Kasey Okke, as well as co-advisor and teacher, Kristi Tonnessen, the students prepared for the FFA State Convention by coming to school late at night to study and practice.

“There was a lot of hard work put into that,” Volk said. “Once we got to the state convention and won, we knew we’d get to go to nationals, but then, because of COVID, they threw in a pre-qualifier for nationals – five online tests we had to accomplish.”

The team sat in their classroom in Rugby awaiting their results. They placed in the top 20, allowing them to advance to Indianapolis.

Their fourth team member, Carson Mattern, who graduated from Rugby High School in the spring, was at college in Wahpeton, N.D., so he had to practice on his own as the other three seniors practiced together in Rugby.

“It was a hard deal to get practices all together,” Volk said. “When we went to nationals, we had to catch Carson up on everything we had learned.”

The two main competitions were in hydraulics and welding. A smaller awards ceremony following the 20-team competition revealed Rugby as one of the top three finalists. Once on the big stage, they were crowned national champions.

“We we’re very shocked,” Volk said. “We knew we were in competition with Missouri and that it would be very close with them. It was such a huge accomplishment to even be in the top 3 on the big stage, but then taking first place was just a shock. I’m really grateful for the hard work we put into it.”

Volk graduated from Rugby High School this spring and is planning to attend Bismarck State College to take part in their lineman program starting this fall.

“From working on the farm, I love being outdoors and working with my hands. I won’t be able to come back to the family farm right away because I want to explore the world a little bit. I’m ready for it,” he said.

Volk’s family farms about 6,000 acres in Rugby and runs about 180 Black Angus cow/calf pairs. They raise corn, wheat, soybean, as well as some winter wheat, rye, and occasionally, black beans. He has three brothers, Devin, Isaac, and Titus, as well as a sister, Abby.

“We all work together on the family farm. It’s a lot of fun to work with my siblings, as well as my dad and mother (Philip and Lisa). It’s really cool during harvest time because we’re all in the same field and it’s a nice choreographed operation,” he said.

He has really enjoyed working with his brother, Isaac, who owns an excavating company – Volk Excavating.

“It’s been cool to work off the farm and learn how to run other pieces of equipment and talking with customers and building that rapport with them,” he said.

Working with and teaching younger kids about agriculture is also something Volk has dedicated his time to.

Rugby had an Ag Safety Day this spring at the local John Deere dealership to help educate elementary-aged students about being safe on the farm.

“They brought out all the third and sixth graders. We’re a big ag community in Rugby, so as an FFA department we wanted to teach them all the safety things they need to know if they go to their friend’s or their grandpa’s farm,” he said.

Volk helped man the PTO (power take-off) station during the event, teaching the kids about all the moving parts on the machines.

“We had a demonstration with a sweatshirt that showed how just a small piece of your shirt or a string can get caught in there and how quickly it can get wrapped up. We wanted to show the kids how you have to have respect for these big machines,” he explained.

In the fall of 2021, Volk helped teach fourth graders where their food comes from.

“They learned how a pizza is made and how many of those ingredients come from North Dakota. It was a good fit for me since we do wheat at our farm. I got to show them how it’s grown, the pieces of equipment used to harvest it, as well as the milling process and how we get to the fine flour we use. They got to see how the whole process works,” he said.

As Volk looks forward to the future, he can’t help but look back to all the opportunities FFA has afforded him.

“It’s been one of the best experiences of high school. I’d recommend any kid get into the FFA program. You may be timid at first, but you will look back and never regret it. I got to meet so many new people and have so many great experiences. It’s just a great organization,” he concluded.

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