North Harford upsets Harford Christian, wins 2017 Harford Envirothon

North Harford High School took first place in this year's Harford County Envirothon competition, the first public school to capture the title in a decade.

Harford Christian School, which has been the perennial winner since 2007, finished second in Tuesday's competition held at the Harford County 4-H Camp in Street. John Carroll was third.

"It feels amazing, I almost cried," North Harford junior Aubrey Williams said as she held the first-place trophy.

She and four other members of the school's first-string "A team," called Contour, scored 511 points, according to the results.

Harford Christian's A team, Grazing, had 497.5 points, and John Carroll's Pollinator team had 447 points.

Aubrey's teammates included sophomore Will Eakes and juniors Ryan O'Leary, Will Beltran and Alayna Dorbert.

Ryan's mother, North Harford teacher Laura O'Leary, is the team's faculty advisor. O'Leary has coached her school's Envirothon teams for more than 15 years - two of her older sons were on the school's 2015 squad, which finished second that year.

O'Leary was in Alaska during Tuesday's competition, and Aubrey told Ryan to call his mother as they accepted their trophy and blue ribbons.

Her voice could be heard over Ryan's cell phone as the students cheered and hugged each other.

"We've been working toward this every year, and so it feels so great to actually win," Aubrey said later.

Aubrey has been on the North Harford Environthon team since her freshman year, and she said the team wanted to win the competition for O'Leary because of the effort she puts in to helping the students prepare.

"She will take time out of her day and her weekends to practice with us ... she's kind of like a mom to us, and we just want to make her proud and we feel like we did that today," Aubrey said.

North Harford also took first place among the B teams. Their squad, called Residue, had 349.5 points; Pasture, from Harford Christian, had 323 points, and Windbreak, from Havre de Grace High School, had 316 points.

Their scores were based on field experiments and surveys conducted around the 4-H camp property, which is off of Cherry Hill Road near Deer Creek, in the areas of aquatics, forestry, soils and wildlife, as well as a fifth topic related to a contemporary environmental issue, which changes each year.

This year's fifth topic covered agricultural stewardship and conservation planning, according to Bill Tharpe, district manager for the Harford Soil Conservation District.

The Soil Conservation District is the main sponsor of the local Envirothon competition, along with the Harford County government, the Harford Glen Foundation, the Harford County Forestry Board and the Eden Mill Nature Center in Pylesville.

The students had given presentations on their fifth topic earlier in the year, and they completed written exams on the topic Tuesday, along with their field work on the other four topics.

The teams' presentations covered an array of topics, such as agricutural operations best management practices, soil and nutrient management planning, crop rotation and livestock, according to Tharpe.

He noted faculty advisers work with students before the competition, similar to an athletic team practicing before game day.

"The day of the competition, it is the students only – what they know, what they've learned, they are putting it into practice," he said. "It is written and hands-on knowledge that's necessary to take that top position."

North Harford took home several top prizes in the individual categories, too. Contour, the A team, took first place in the fifth topic oral presentation, along with forestry and aquatics, plus the team earned the annual Doc Bailey Achievement Award, which goes to the team that demonstrates the largest improvement in scores from the previous year.

John Carroll took home the Tom Trafton Spirit Award, which goes to the team that shows the most enthusiasm during the year.

John Caroll also took second place in the fifth topic oral presentation. Harford Christian was third.

Harford Christian earned first place in the Wildlife individual topic and on the written exam for the fifth topic. Patterson Mill and Fallston high schools tied for first on the soils individual topic.

Their teams were called Wetland and Riparian, respectively.

North Harford will represent Harford County during the state Environthon competition June 14 to 16 at the Pecometh Camp in Queen Anne's County.

The winner of the state competition will represent Maryland among schools from the U.S. and Canada during the national competition in July at Mount St. Mary's University in Emmitsburg.

A-team member Will Eakes took part in his first Envirothon Tuesday.

"I really liked the experience, and I can't wait to do it next year and compete in the state competition [this year]," he said.

Will found he enjoyed learning in the outdoor environment, as opposed to the classroom.

"It was fun to learn about something I was interested in," he said.

Will is the son of Howard Eakes, the assistant supervisor for science with Harford County Public Schools and a regular supporter of Envirothon.

Eakes praised the effort his son and his teammates put in to prepare for the competition.

"They really have worked so hard," he said.

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