WAXAHACHIE

Three freshmen were thrown into the greenhand skills team by their FFA advisor Brooks Humphrey. Not only did the nervous young group accept the challenge; Cheyan Underwood, Bryce Martin and Cade Sims did so with the expectations of their parents and, really, three generations of Waxahachie FFA in mind.

After all, it was not long ago that all six parents helped the Waxahachie High School FFA program reach new highs under the instruction of longtime FFA advisor Mike Morgan.

The current group of teens placed first in the district and area competitions, which advanced the team to the Leadership Development Event state contests in Huntsville — the same opportunity some of their parents had in the same program.

“The first week of practice we were pretty rough, and throughout it, we’ve gotten better,” freshmen Bryce Martin said.

The road to state was not an easy one, though, as there were many long nights spent memorizing an intricate script and understanding the equipment they worked with.

“I think we are a pretty good team," said Cade Sims at the last practice before the state semifinal competition. "We’ve come a long way and have learned a lot about the skill that we’ve been doing."

The students practiced explaining to a panel of three judges on how to fuse polyethylene pipe in under 20 minutes. The team learned that hard work pays off and how to become leaders of their own style.

The trio also built confidence in themselves and trust in each other.

The third team member, Cheyan Underwood, explained their trust in one another is what sets them apart from the other teams. When a member forgets a line or makes a mistake another team member will recite the other person’s line to help.

And, throughout the practice sessions and in the back of their minds, the three freshmen just want to make their parents proud and even exceed some of their records.

Take, for instance, Cheyan's father, Riley Underwood, who recalled his year on the greenhand skills team that never advanced past the area contest. After four months in the FFA program, Riley has already noticed his daughter carry herself differently around adults and noted she has matured at great lengths.

Riley said he sees a better version of himself in his daughter.

“I see what I should have been," Riley said. "She’s very focused on going above and beyond and doing everything better than I did. It’s kind of entertaining to watch. I had Cheyan at 15 years old, so to see where she is at compared to where I was…I think her big goal is to do everything I did, but better.”

In practice, Cheyan only wants to live up past the expectations to go above and beyond. She even pointed to the back of the shop at the Career, Technology and Education wing where a trailer stands that her father built back in his high school days.

Riley said he moved back to Waxahachie so Cheyan could experience the FFA as he did. At the age of 15, Riley received the news that Cheyan’s mother, Victoria Lewis, was pregnant. He explained the two got through the teen-parent stage of life thanks to the support of WHS FFA students and advisors.

“They were very, very influential in my life outside of school as well as in school,” Riley emphasized. “They were very influential in teaching me a work ethic and giving me the drive to be the best I could be every day.”

He also noted the most significant life lesson learned from longtime agricultural science teacher Mike Morgan, who now serves as an administrator with WISD, was that it is not the mistakes made but how a person comes back from them. Riley also expressed his feeling toward his daughter succeeding through the FFA.

“I don’t even know how to put it into words how proud I am of her," he added. "She worked her butt off for it for sure. To have the success they have and with everything they have going on as well as just, I’m extremely proud.”

Cheyan's mother, Victoria, expressed the FFA is in her daughter's blood. Cheyan has shown lambs since she was eight years old and through that experience is "becoming a leader of her team and not focusing on herself."

Lewis reflected on the leadership of Morgan and how he taught her that "hard work does not come easy. You have to put in the hard work." That is a concept she instills into her daughter this day.

Bryce's mother, Meredith Oliver, can also recall the life skills she learned from Morgan.

“Being an adult, I still call him Mr. Morgan like he is my teacher every time I see him," Oliver said. "He taught me to respect and taught us responsibility whether that be in or out of the classroom and not necessarily ag, it was our other classes.”

Before Oliver ever became a surgical assistant in the cardiac operating room at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas, she had a long list of success in the WHS FFA showing steers, competing on the chapter conducting team and winning Miss Waxahachie FFA. She also sees herself in Bryce, noting it's often “just by the way he likes [the FFA] and looks forward to going to his ag class.”

Bryce's father, Todd Martin, elaborated on the characteristics Morgan taught him that both he and Meredith instill in their son.

“We both try to teach him to be accountable for the good things he does and the bad things he does," Todd elaborated. "I really feel that in my life and that’s why I try to instill it in his life.”

Both parents have seen Bryce take on responsibility and dedicate himself to the greenhand skills team, as well as the rodeo team.

Then there is Glenn Sims, the father of Cade, who has noticed his son mature through the semester.

"I will say, the responsibility he’s taken on being on this skills team and being part of FFA has changed his maturity already," Glenn noted.

Glenn worked as an FFA advisor at Ennis High School and experienced the role teachers play firsthand. He noticed the kids that went through the program came further along in their maturity and problem-solving skills than others who hadn’t experienced it.

However, unlike the other parents, Glenn did not learn under Morgan while attending Waxahachie High. Instead, he had the pleasure to study under FFA advisor Ron Appleton, who dedicated 19 years to the program after promotion into the administration. Morgan then took over for the next 29 years before he accepted his role as WISD Director of Student and Campus Services.

Morgan was working with cattle as he recalled via phone teaching the six parents of the current greenhand skills team. It was him who connected all of the dots and pointed out the "legacy team" of freshmen.

“It’s fantastic because that’s why we teach,” said Morgan as he expressed his feelings about the legacy team. “You know, people don’t teach for the paycheck but to hopefully make a difference in kids’ lives and prepare them for the future. When I get to see my students go out, and be successful, and reach their potential — that’s the ultimate reward for a teacher.”

Morgan shared an FFA advisor plays a unique role since they educate the student all four years of high school and sometimes more than one course a year. He worked closely with students and their projects which brought him closer to the families behind the young minds.

And, just to bring the idea of "legacies" full circle, Morgan learned under the tutelage of Appleton while he was a high school member of the FFA. He was also on the first LDE team to win state when he was a freshman on the greenhand chapter-conducting contest — so, he knows what it is like to surpass hundreds of groups and compete in Huntsville at Sam Houston State University.

To the current greenhand skills team, which competed Friday in the preliminaries and, ultimately missed the finals, Morgan said, “Cherish the moment because they don’t really realize — they are freshmen, and it’s their first time to do a leadership contest, and it’s their first time to go to state, and they don’t realize there are hundreds of teams that are finished and are at home. They don’t know what it’s like because they haven’t been beaten yet. They don’t know what it’s like to lose.”

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450