Let's go virtual: McCook Central FFA to host state's first online CDE event

Hadley Stiefvater pictured in the traditional blue jacket at McCook Central High School on April 14, 2020. (Matt Gade / Republic)

SALEM — Just as winter sports were denied championships and spring sports failed to even launch, FFA kids across the state were facing the same questions, left wondering: "What now?"

When Gov. Kristi Noem announced the start of school closures on March 13, FFA chapters across the state were forced to cancel their scheduled Career Development Events (CDE), and then, when it was decided schools should close for the remainder of the year, the state convention was also canceled.

That left FFA students in limbo.

At McCook Central, it was the cue for FFA adviser Terry Rieckman and assistant adviser Tracy Chase to organize South Dakota’s first-ever virtual CDE competitions. Those events can range from agronomy to floriculture, horse and livestock evaluations to landscaping, employment skills and topics related to the FFA's creed and values.

“My thing was, I saw many of these students this spring just lose out on a ton of things. We don't know what graduation is going to look like. A lot of them miss proms, just all the things that you miss in the spring of the year, that we got no closure,” Rieckman said. “So we thought, ‘Well if nothing else, we could put on some kind of online CDE.’ Maybe this is one way that we can get something back.”


The virtual CDE event will feature 14 different categories, scheduled for April 23 and 24, and is expected to take between 90 minutes to two hours to complete individual categories.

For McCook Central senior and FFA chapter president Hadley Stiefvater, she thought her senior year was basically over until Rieckman and Chase threw out their idea for a virtual CDE.

“As a senior, it was pretty tough to finish out the year and not have another shot at earning a trip to nationals,” she said. “When they brought up the idea of doing it online, I got really excited because that's another way to keep practicing my skills and being able to use those techniques and things I've learned all through my four years of being in FFA and still being able to compete even if it wasn't in person.”

Rieckman got the idea from other states that have held virtual CDEs in the past and are utilizing them now during school shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic across the country.

To make this happen, Rieckman made calls to the people who already handled virtual judging and curriculum. Specifically, the event will use, an FFA CDE and 4-H judging contest scoring system, and iCEV, an online CTE Curriculum & Instructional Materials website platform. iCEV let Rieckman use its video catalogs and worked to embed them in the contest free of charge.

The whole process has been a schoolwide project. Paraeducators at the school typed up tests to get them to students, and school leaders have cleared the way to make it possible to host the event virtually.

The South Dakota FFA convention had been scheduled to begin on Sunday, April 19. Rieckman said he believes the state is now trying to host a virtual convention sometime in May and possibly would hold its own virtual CDEs to allow students to still compete and qualify for the national convention in Indianapolis in October. McCook Central hosting a virtual CDE prior to a statewide competition would allow students to get used to the new format.

“The timing actually will work out really well. Even though it's after when it was typically scheduled, I think it was an opportunity to get a little bit of practice done, at least something to kind of figure out how it works, especially if we are having our online CDE. I think it's good just to get all the bugs worked out,” Stiefvater said. “The state has been really working hard to make sure that we're still able to participate and that we can still do something to potentially qualify us to go to nationals.”


As of Monday, Rieckman said they’ve had more than 1,000 students registered from around South Dakota from about 20 different chapters.

“Now there's 90-some chapters in the state and then typically, you've got to remember, we’re ag teachers too. We have a tendency to wait 'til the last minute to do a lot of things,” Rieckman said.

Registration for next week’s virtual CDE closes on Friday. Rieckman said they are working to put on a second virtual CDE the following week, opened up beyond South Dakota chapters.

“The following week, we're taking out a couple of CDEs that don't follow maybe national rules as much and opening it up to anybody in the United States at once.,” Rieckman said. “And we're already getting a ton of chapters registered for that, all the way from Connecticut, California to Texas, I mean, all over the country.”

One of the biggest challenges Rieckman expects is that students won’t be able to start, pause and finish later. Rather, once they start, they’ll have to sit in front of their computer and finish the event.

“I think it can be easy to get distracted when it comes to these online contests. You're sitting there. It's not moving from station to station or not using hands-on things a lot like some of the other contests do or team presentations,” Stiefvater said. “As I'm sitting in front of the computer for several hours, it is going to be different instead of doing it more hands-on.”

FFA students wanting to compete are told to talk to their chapter advisor to sign them up at

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