Holton FFA Envirothon team wins State, headed to Canada

Holton Staff

Holton High School FFA Envirothon team, along with alternate sophomore Joshua Clark, will compete at the North America Envirothon competition July 24 – 29 at Trent University’s campus in Peterbourgh, Ontario, Canada.  They qualified for nationals by winning first place in the State Envirothon competition on April 27.

Freshman Walker Sheldon, and juniors Alexandra Myers, Alexandra Clark, Tel Wittmer, and Ian McAsey competed against teams from schools throughout the state at Camp Wood, located in Chase County, to gain the overall first-place award at State on April 27.

Envirothon is an outdoor, natural resource education program for high school students that is organized and coordinated by Conservation Districts. The Kansas Envirothon Committee, a part of the KACD Conservation Youth and Education Committee, oversees the Envirothon activities in Kansas.

In the Envirothon competition, teams of five students work together to complete written tests in five natural resource areas; Forestry, Soils, Aquatics, Wildlife, and a Current Issue, which changes from year to year. An oral presentation over Invasive Species: A Challenge to the Environment, Economy, and Society was the final part of the competition. Envirothon events are held at three levels; regional, state, and the North American Envirothon for winning teams from U.S. states and Canadian provinces.

At the end of a long day of testing the team’s knowledge of environmental science and ecology, the Holton team received the following awards, emerging as first-place winners: First place in soils/land use, First place in forestry, Second place in aquatics, Second place oral presentation, and Third place in current issue.

“ It was such a close competition,” Envirothon team captain junior Alex Myers said. “There was only a five-point difference between our team and Rock Creek. Rock Creek was the team to beat because they had won state last year and gone to nationals. When the judges said Holton won, it was surreal I instantly jumped up and gave Mr. Bartel, the best coach ever, a hug! Being the captain of the team, I was so proud of them!”

This is the second time since 2010 that Holton has been state champion in the Envirothon.

To prepare for the competition, team members met at 7 a.m. at least two days a week as well as put in extra time outside the school day. Their coach, Alex Bartel, provided a variety of experiences for team members. Some students attended the Kansas Youth Range Camp to study range grasses and their habitat impacts on wildlife. Some competed in Nursery/Landscape or Land Development career development events in Jackson County. In November team members attended an Envirothon information-training day in Junction City.

“We joke that Mr. Bartel is our ‘Ag Dad,” and with the amount of time we spend with him, it is a realistic interpretation,” junior Tel Wittmer said. “It almost feels like we are his other children due to all the time we spend together at morning practices.”

Bartel admits it is challenging to prepare students for the five areas of forestry, soils, aquatic ecology, wildlife and this year’s current topic covering invasive species, noting that students are given general guidelines but not questions ahead of time. The only area that could be prepared prior to competition is the oral presentation.

Using the internet and gathering personal interviews, the team came up with a presentation complete with visual aides. The judges were from different government agencies such as NRCS, State Fisheries, KDWPT and KSU Extension Service.

Each student had his or her favorite part of the competition and most difficult category.

The most difficult area for junior Alex Clark was aquatics.

“I don’t know much about fish and think they all look the same,” Clark said.

For Wittmer, forestry proved most difficult.

“It was a long test that involved moving around, identifying trees as well as measuring things like the heights and diameters of some trees. So we really struggled to get everything done with the short time we had. I was surprised but very pleased we ended up winning first place in the forestry area,” Wittmer said.

Bartel believes the competition is an important one, which demands a team effort in a variety of ways.

“This competition showcases students’ knowledge of the important factors facing our environment and society,” Bartel said. “They have to work as a team through very challenging exams that ask them to apply physical or mental skills to answer scenario-based questions. The competition is completely outdoors where students are fully in the environment they are trying to solve.”

Team members understand the significance of the knowledge they are gaining.

“I have learned so much from this competition,” freshman Walker Sheldon said. “No one is unaffected by how our ecosystem is operating. Each category teaches you more and more how our world works.”

He said the students plan to study through June and July as a team and on their own. The group will meet with a forester, a wildlife biologist and take a trip to Missouri Western State University to study pine and fir trees in preparation for nationals.

“I am excited to get to go to Canada,” Clark said. “I love Envirothon and can’t wait to take it to a higher level in a place I have never been before. I am also excited to get to meet new people who like Envirothon just like we do.”

Team Captain Alex Myers agrees.

“I’m most looking forward to the collegiate difficulty of the competition in Canada,” she said. “I want to be able to have a team that becomes the first Kansas team to ever win a North American National Championship.”Holton big check