She walked in not knowing what to expect. She’s been to competitions all her life, but this wasn’t like the rest. This was different. There’s no preparation for the feeling of being surrounded by 63,000 people.
At least her sister Rosemary was there for support. Family is something she can always count on. Just when nerves were about to get the best of her, family came through. Overcome by anxiety, she remembered her mom’s advice. She clung to the words of “The worst you could do is be 12th best in the nation, and that doesn’t sound so bad.”
Katherine Fazzino, Rudder High School senior, was not 12th in the nation. She earned second place in her category at the 2015 National FFA Convention and Expo in Louisville, and now she’s hungry for more. Headed back to the national convention for the second straight year Oct. 19-22 in Indianapolis, Fazzino hopes to earn first place in the environmental and natural resources division. And she’s not alone. Her little sister Olivia, Rudder High sophomore, will be competing in the “greenhand” division, qualifying as a freshman during the July state convention in the plant systems category. Going to Indianapolis together excites both sisters almost as much as going to the national convention.
“I’m really excited about going to nationals,” Olivia said. “But going with my sister makes the experience 10 times better.”
Katherine said she was more nervous more about whether Olivia would get to go than she was herself because she feels being at the national convention is an experience that she wants everyone on her FFA team to experience. When talking about Olivia’s progression in the FFA program, she said it was similar to the maturation she experienced learning from her older sisters.
“Knowing Olivia is coming, and kind of following in my footsteps is really exciting,” Katherine said. “You can see the way she loves her project. And it’s a really special feeling because you can see her passion now.”
Olivia has three more years in Rudder FFA and she plans on cherishing every minute of it.
“My favorite thing about Rudder FFA is all the people because they are all so fun and they believe in the things I believe in,” Olivia said.
A Fazzino doing well in FFA is not an uncommon site. There are five Fazzino sisters and all of them experienced success with Rudder FFA. Larry White, agriculture teacher at Rudder, said there’s a reason for their success.
“They’re an outstanding family,” White said. “It goes back not just to their mom and their dad, but to their grandparents as well. It’s one big family. When you get one of those five girls, you get the whole family.”
Like many Rudder FFA alumni, Fazzino girls who graduate come back to support the program. Because the program is entrenched in the Brazos Valley community, it’s easy to find an event where they are serving.
From working with children at the Twin City Mission to participating in the KBTX Food for Families drive, as well as many other events, Rudder FFA students, sponsors and family members are a common site in Bryan and surrounding areas. This community service helped the chapter place third out of 1038 active FFA Chapters in the state of Texas at this year’s state convention earning the chapter a “Golden Horizon” award for total involvement in the school and community. In a press release, the FFA said it considers its Golden Horizon award “the highest state rating to be bestowed on an FFA chapter.” Also at the state convention, Rudder FFA placed eighth in the state as an overall chapter to win the Gold Emblem National Chapter Rating and advance to nationals to be judged in the National FFA Chapter Contest.
Rudder FFA started with just 39 students when the school opened in 2008. It has grown to a chapter of over 400 students. Katherine said there’s a reason the program is so successful.
“Our teachers help us develop our own passion for FFA,” Katherine said. “None of our teachers tell us what we have to do. They lay the foundation by helping us find our passion. We take what they give us and run with it.”
In preparation for nationals, Katherine and Olivia aren’t slowing down. They recently earned first place in their divisions at the State Fair of Texas’ 4-H/FFA Agricultural Science Fair. The prizes came complete with a $1,000 scholarship for each sister.
Scholarships are something the sisters have become accustomed to earning. As a senior, college is on the horizon for Katherine, and she’s very appreciative of opportunity scholarships bring. Olivia and her are planning to attend Texas A&M to join their sisters MaryFrances and Rosemary who are currently attending the university. Anna Marie Drymalla, the oldest Fazzino sister, graduated from Texas A&M and is working as a teacher in the area.
Katherine, who wants to major in agribusiness and minor in economics, said FFA prepares students for all walks of life. Once called Future Farmers of America, the official name of the organization is now the National FFA Organization, welcoming members who aspire to be teachers, doctors, scientists and many other professions. Katherine said skills gained in FFA like interviewing will be invaluable to whatever career she chooses. But those thoughts are for the future. Right now Katherine is focused on the task at hand – nationals.
“Winning would be really exciting because that would mean that all my hard work these past three years is finally coming together,” Katherine said.
She added that she’d love to bring back the top spot at nationals because then their chapter would “be known at the national level.”
“I really want people to know about Rudder FFA because Rudder FFA is such an important part of my entire life,” Katherine said.
Children First. Always.