By Lisa Shumard-Shelton
As you are reading this, your downtown is being descended upon by a Blue Crew. This is not an unusual site for a city that loves its Colts, but with this Blue Crew you will see a lot less 'any given Sunday' and a lot more blue corduroy.
National Blue and Corn Gold are the colors of the FFA. The distinctive blue corduroy jacket is the official uniform, which will adorn the backs of 55,000 students from around the nation and beyond in town for the National FFA Convention, which runs Oct. 24-27.
You probably don't farm, but maybe you have seen the FFA's national headquarters along I-465. And if you take a second to consider the significance of FFA, you may find you share more in common with these kids than you think.
Formerly known as the Future Farmers of America, now just FFA to reflect that agriculture involves more than farming, the leadership organization has been around since the late-1920s. Today it boasts more than 525,000 members.
The FFA convention may mean more traffic on your way to work and longer lines in the restaurants where you are trying to grab a quick bite. You'll likely see more drivers steering pickups around town than if there were a Toby Keith concert at Verizon Wireless Music Center. It also will affect your daily life when you encounter a few evident out-of-towners who are probably lost and giving you that irrefutable look that says "I'm from a small down and I'm afraid everyone is going to rob me." Say hello if you wish. Or ignore them; they likely think all city people are rude anyway. Also, if you are tempted to call them rednecks, you should know they actually take pride in that label. You can thank Toby Keith for that!
But there is a lot about this event that will resonate with farmers and non-farmers alike.
There is something to be learned from the corduroy. In my more than a decade writing about and being involved in the FFA, I've come to find the organization does something right when it comes to motivating and leading our youth. It has to or it would have died years ago, rather than being one of the largest youth organizations in the nation.
FFA harkens to an age-old fire within us: competition. The corduroy-loving organization has dozens of different judging contests on anything from livestock to horticulture and from public speaking to soils. Think about the movie Napoleon Dynamite, where Napoleon (clad in the blue and yellow!) drinks the milk and knows that the cow had gotten into an onion patch. That is a funny twist on something that is very real. These kids study for hours to learn about things like animal muscling and topsoil erosion. They are motivated to go for a win at smaller, local competitions, which then takes them to regional contests that ultimately lead them to nationals.
The FFA also gives tangible steps for members to build up to organizational degrees and awards at the state and national level. This helps students who might not be the best athlete or smartest kid in the class find a knack. Something they can be good at.
Along the way, students meet new friends and are able to expand their realm of experience. The skills they learn researching their area of interest eventually can translate into helping them be leaders in the workforce. This sort of atmosphere builds confidence and skills that can turn a one-time misfit into a college graduate and then into a person who knows how find a career that makes them happy. We need more of this in our youth organizations.
While you may or may not wear corduroy, most NUVO readers know what it feels like to not fit in at some point. But the flip side of that is we also know the great joy of finding a place where you can feel at home.
As you are walking around town this weekend and see the packs of students in their blue and gold, remember that one of those studies has been bullied, has been told they aren't good enough or that they are a dork. But when they are with others and matching in corduroy, they have found others who appreciate them for being a unique individual.