BELLVILLE — Some kids dream of scoring a game-winning touchdown or landing the lead role in the school musical.
Dawson Staley had his sights set elsewhere.
As a middle schooler, he told his parents he wanted to prove his skill with an engine by winning the Ohio FFA Association’s Agricultural Power Diagnostics competition.
That dream came true last week, when Staley and his partner Braxton Stillion represented Clear Fork High School in the state finals. The pair earned the top score among 15 pairs of finalists from across Ohio.
The career development event tested students’ ability to diagnose and repair malfunctions in agricultural and industrial power equipment. Teams went through five stations, each with a different piece of malfunctioning equipment.
Each station had two malfunctions that needed to be resolved. Students were given a work order describing the general nature of the problem — the machine wouldn't run, it wouldn't start, it kept losing power — but weren't told specifically what was wrong or how to fix it.
Teams had three minutes per station to assess the machine and 20 minutes to fix both malfunctions. All malfunctions were designed to simulate realistic machine failures a farmer or mechanic might encounter, including issues with fuel, ignition, electrical, electronic and hydraulics systems.
Brock Atkins, an admissions counselor at the University of Northwestern Ohio, said this year's contest featured a wide range of challenges.
“There was an air conditioning problem, there were some electrical problems," he said.
"There's usually a hydraulic (problem) and maybe a crank, no start problem. They're working on anything from turn signals to internal engine stuff and hydraulic pumps pushing thousands of pounds of pressure."
Stillion and Staley were the only team in the competition to successfully fix all 10 malfunctions.
"Our biggest goal was to least make sure that we got all the faults figured out," said Staley, a sophomore. "We ended up being the only team that got all the faults finished. So we were pretty proud of ourselves.”
The team's first-place finish in the FFA career development event earned them each a $10,000 scholarship to UNOH.
Stillion, a junior, said he and Staley had a strategy going into each station. He immediately began working on diagnostics while Staley checked the fluids.
Staley said he and Stillion do a good job playing on each other's strengths.
“We definitely worked good as a team," he said.
Atkins attributed the pair's victory to a combination of work ethic and experience.
Stillion has grown up helping his family business farm hay and run an excavating operation, B. K. Layer. Staley also comes from a farming family and has apprenticed with Tom Pfeifer of Pfeifer Repair.
"(Dawson) is a good, nice young man to work with. He's very eager to dive in and do anything you ask him to do,” Pfeifer said. “He definitely soaks it all in.”
Staley's father Adam, who teaches vocational agriculture at Clear Fork, said his son hopes to study diesel engineering at UNOH.
“UNOH is probably the top diesel school in the country. NASCAR, that’s where they cherry pick a lot of their mechanics," he said.
“(Dawson) said in middle school this is the contest he wanted to win. He’s been working at it. It didn’t happen overnight, but there’s just a been a lot of good people helping him along the way.”
Stillion said he hopes to take over his family business one day.