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How Illinois FFA decided to move its convention online

Students made the decision, with guidance and a dose of perspective. The annual June event joins a slate of virtual events, as COVID-19 restricts gatherings.

Holly Spangler

May 5, 2020

4 Min Read
Illinois state FFA officer team
TOGETHER: With the announcement that the 2020 Illinois FFA Convention will be virtual this year, Executive Director Mindy Bunselmeyer says she hopes the new events will make FFA members feel valuable. “That’s the biggest lesson here — reminding us all how valuable we are to each other.”

Illinois FFA has announced that the 2020 Illinois FFA Convention will not be held in person this year, due to the health risks of COVID-19. According to Mindy Bunselmeyer, executive director, the 92nd annual convention will be a mix of virtual events, held over the course of several weeks this summer.

The decision had to be made by the Illinois FFA Board, which is made up of 10 FFA members and seven adults. All motions must come from the students, Bunselmeyer says.

“And in order for it to come from the students, we had to talk about it from every angle,” she explains. “It was tough, but they did a great job.”

Related: Complete coronavirus coverage


Bunselmeyer says the business session, announcement of Star winners and state officer elections will be held during the traditional week of convention, June 9-11. “Many teachers, students, officers, alumni and friends indicated they would be tuned in that week, and the board felt we would have our greatest numbers then for celebrating our Stars and conducting elections,” she says.

They decided to push the rest of the announcements and events to July so staff would have time to convert these activities to a virtual event.

“At the beginning of the quarantine, we thought, ‘Hey, we’re lucky — we have time.’ But it turns out, we don’t have the ability to do our day-to-day operations because we’re working remotely,” Bunselmeyer says, pointing to the extensive video work that has to be done to present awards virtually.

Look at proficiency awards, she says, typically, they spend a day announcing state proficiency, or record book, winners. Converting to a virtual presentation took three weeks.

On the flip side, she says to expect the convention portion to be much more concise because scripts won’t be written to buy time for the next award group. “They will be much easier to write now,” she says.

Convention week activities

During convention week, look for the business session to be conducted virtually on June 9; Star awards will be presented virtually on the evening of June 10; and elections will take place on June 11.  

For Bunselmeyer, the excruciating process of making these kinds of decisions is heightened by FFA’s desire to teach and lead students at the same time.

“One of the biggest lessons that’s so hard to teach our officers at this age is asking, ‘Let’s say we could gather on June 9. Is that the right thing to do?’” she says. “What are the optics for our organization? Not just the risk and liability of it, but we want to be a positive example and a good role model and a good steward.

“That’s been a good reminder for all of us — to think beyond our organization,” Bunselmeyer says.

It’s given everyone involved perspective, too, she adds.

“We’ve tried really hard to keep some of these events alive, but we try to be conscientious that some of our members’ families have lost their jobs and their livelihoods,” she says. “There are a lot more important things than FFA.”

That perspective has landed well on the state officer team and other students, who’ve amped up their offerings on social media with videos and live career events.

“Yeah, they’re bummed, but compared to what other people are losing or missing out on, it pales in comparison. That’s a life lesson, and a good reminder and perspective,” Bunselmeyer says.

Virtual details

Traditional convention week will stick to the usual schedule:

  • June 9: Business session

  • June 10: Star awards presentation

  • June 11: Officer elections

Parliamentary Procedure and Conduct of Chapter Meetings contests are postponed, and a date has not been announced. Public speaking events will continue virtually, with section results by May 22 and district results by June 2. The state public speaking contest will be held virtually on June 16. The Agriscience Fair will be virtual on June 11.

State and American FFA degrees will be presented virtually in a rolling format July 13-17. Bunselmeyer says they’re collecting photos of each honoree and putting together an extensive video presentation. They’ll recognize winners from each district on the following schedule:

  • District 1: July 13

  • District 2: July 14

  • District 3: July 15

  • District 4: July 16

  • District 5: July 17

Retiring state officers will present their retiring addresses as they present awards during the week of July 20 on the following schedule:

  • July 20: Various awards

  • July 21: National chapter awards

  • July 22: Proficiency awards

  • July 23: Career Development Events, Leadership Development Events and agriscience awards

The Greenhand Quizbowl, scrapbook and annual Ag Communications Summit have all been canceled.

Read more about:

Covid 19

About the Author(s)

Holly Spangler

Senior Editor, Prairie Farmer, Farm Progress

Holly Spangler has covered Illinois agriculture for more than two decades, bringing meaningful production agriculture experience to the magazine’s coverage. She currently serves as editor of Prairie Farmer magazine and Executive Editor for Farm Progress, managing editorial staff at six magazines throughout the eastern Corn Belt. She began her career with Prairie Farmer just before graduating from the University of Illinois in agricultural communications.

An award-winning writer and photographer, Holly is past president of the American Agricultural Editors Association. In 2015, she became only the 10th U.S. agricultural journalist to earn the Writer of Merit designation and is a five-time winner of the top writing award for editorial opinion in U.S. agriculture. She was named an AAEA Master Writer in 2005. In 2011, Holly was one of 10 recipients worldwide to receive the IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Ag Journalism award. She currently serves on the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation, the U of I Agricultural Communications Advisory committee, and is an advisory board member for the U of I College of ACES Research Station at Monmouth. Her work in agricultural media has been recognized by the Illinois Soybean Association, Illinois Corn, Illinois Council on Agricultural Education and MidAmerica Croplife Association.

Holly and her husband, John, farm in western Illinois where they raise corn, soybeans and beef cattle on 2,500 acres. Their operation includes 125 head of commercial cows in a cow/calf operation. The family farm includes John’s parents and their three children.

Holly frequently speaks to a variety of groups and organizations, sharing the heart, soul and science of agriculture. She and her husband are active in state and local farm organizations. They serve with their local 4-H and FFA programs, their school district, and are active in their church's youth and music ministries.

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