Steven Hillyer has taken four teams to the state title and many others to the county title in his 21 years of coaching Harford County student Envirothon teams.
With his current team's first-place finish in the first round of this year's county competition, he has his eyes on a fifth state championship. The team includes nine students: Johnny Biondo, Anthony Alvarez, Farhan Bachu, Lynsey Blackburn, Dylan Schantz, Mike Wills, Glenn Joseph, Adam Wachsman and Nina Cogan.
First, his Havre de Grace High School students have to knock out the reigning champion, Harford Christian School.
Harford Christian won the Maryland Envirothon last June, and earned a seventh-place finish in the North American Envirothon, competing against students from throughout the U.S. and Canada.
"Based on my experience, I'm more than confident this year that this team has what it takes," he said.
Hillyer is chair of his school's science department and the Envirothon advisor. His 2012 squad came within about 20 points of beating Harford Christian at the county level.
During the Envirothon, students must demonstrate their expertise in four areas of the environment, including wildlife, forestry, aquatics and soils.
They must also develop a project for a fifth area, known as the "Fifth Topic." The Fifth Topic changes every year, and students must come up with ways to manage scenarios which often come before policymakers, such as protecting watersheds.
This year, the topic is how to sustainably manage range lands; Hillyer said the state or province which hosts the North American competition selects the Fifth Topic.
This year, the North American finals will be held in Montana, known for its ranges.
The Havre de Grace High team developed a plan for a 6,400-acre range designated for grass-fed beef and bison production, and to allow turkey and elk hunting on the land, plus trout fishing and horseback riding for visitors.
"They decided to integrate the resources of the range land itself into the marketing and into the management," Hillyer explained.
The coach said the students made an oral presentation about their project during the first round on March 10.
"I'm a tough coach, but it definitely put a smile on my face," Hillyer said.
The second round, which is in early May, involves the students taking written exams on each of the initial four topics.
Each test is scored on a 100-point basis, and is added to the first-round score.