Competitive spirit comes naturally for students at Baltimore County Envirothon

At the aquatics station, several dead fish were being examined and prodded by several teenagers, while others watched live critters swimming in bowls on another table. Elsewhere, a bird claw, an animal pelt and two different jawbones were under investigation at a wildlife station.

A total of five stations — aquatics, wildlife, forestry, soil and a current event — had to be completed by each of 25 teams representing 17 Baltimore County high schools at the Baltimore County Envirothon Competition, held April 20 at Oregon Ridge Park Lodge.

"It's gotten bigger and bigger," said Pat Ghingher, Baltimore County Public School Outdoor Science educator, of the competition. "This is a wonderful facility. It looks like a competition here."

Teams from around the county began arriving at Oregon Park at 8:30 a.m. Stations were located both inside the lodge and outside, under pavilions and near trees. Each team had 30 minutes to complete each station.

"I think we did pretty good," said Burkely Hermann, a senior at Towson High School, after completing the last station. "Some of the topics were ... pretty hard, like forestry. Soil was a little hard."

Forestry was a little rough for the Dulaney team, too, according to Erin Brock, a senior on the team, who has participated every year while in high school.

"It changes every year," said Brock of the competition."It gets a little easier. I'm not an expert. Forestry was a little rough. Everything else went mostly well and it was a fun time."

Holly West, an AP Environmental Science teacher at Towson, couldn't say enough good things about the Envirothon.

"The kids have a great time ...and are excited to come," West said. "It's a fun competition."

Students participating in the Envirothon have been studying since September. As part of this extracurricular training, teenagers identify and categorize living resources, perform soil surveys, identify issues related to trees and delve into other complex natural resource issues.

The program focuses on a special environmental issue that changes from year to year. This year's issue is non-point source pollution and low-impact development.

For Baltimore County schools, Ghingher has hosted two workshops, one in the fall and one in spring, and provides various resources to the schools to help prepare for the competition.

"She really does an outstanding job in all aspects of the Envirothon," West said of Ghingher."There are a lot of aspects ... professionals, jobs, the exposure to different career opportunities."

After the final station, teams gathered in the lodge to eat lunch and await the results of the competition. With everyone providing a "drum roll," Ghingher announced the results: Hereford won; Perry Hall was second and Western School of Technology and Environmental Science was third.

Locally, a team from the George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology came in forth, and Towson High School's Team A finished 10th.

As the winner, Hereford advances to the Maryland Envirothon, scheduled for June 20-21 at St. James School in Washington County. The winner of the Maryland Envirothon will represent the state later this summer at the 2012 Canon Envirothon at Susquehanna University in Selinsgove, Pa., where more than 250 teenagers from the United States and Canada will compete for $125,000 in scholarships and prizes.

The Envirothon is sponsored by Maryland Association of Soil Conservation Districts and the State Soil Conservation Committee and supported by other state and federal programs.

All of the students who competed at Oregon Ridge found common ground in the study of natural resources, but after the results were announced, there was no time for mingling — groups yelled "good-bye" and "thanks" to Ghingher as they rushed to their buses for home.

Though they didn't win, members of the Dulaney team were pleased with the overall experience. John Anders, the coach of Dulaney's team, jokingly revealed the key to his team's endurance.

"Practice, pizza and cola," Anders said.

"It's really fun," said Darlene Leddon, 16, a 10th-grader on Dulaney's team whose favorite topic was wildlife. "It's interesting to learn about species in our state."

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